La reflexión final (and a video!)

Holaaaa! Jordin and I have been home for over a month now and can’t believe that the time has flown so quickly. We arrived back in Philadelphia on May 16th, though we were originally supposed to arrive on the 15th – we found out in the airport that our flight was cancelled and there was no other option until almost 24 hours later, so after spending a night in a very nice hotel in Santiago in which our airline put us up (as they should’ve), we finally arrived home and everything has been absolutely fantastic. It is so wonderful to be home with my family, my cuddly cats, my extremely comfortable bed, and to wake up to NPR (specifically my absolute favorite host, Marty Moss-Coane) and my mom’s fantastic coffee every morning! Amy’s homemade bread is even better than I remembered. It hasn’t been difficult to adjust back to life here because I did feel ready to come back after our final week, especially because I was feeling under the weather after over a month of being out late every night. But of course I’ve had some reverse culture shock, most of which stems from not hearing Spanish around me all the time. It’s strange to not hear and speak Spanish in the supermarket and restaurants, and that I can completely understand people on the street and vice versa. I’ve already said “Permiso” to a few people when I should’ve said “Excuse me”, but I usually realize right afterward – that is pretty strange though! Jordin and I absolutely love speaking Spanglish, because there are so many words in Spanish that are just easier to say than in English. Sadly, I’ve only been out salsa dancing once, with a group that is apparently the only group that dances salsa cubana (Cuban Salsa) in Philadelphia – I have more research to do. It wasn’t nearly as fun as our classes in Chile (l@s extrañamos a tod@s en Ritmo & Guapería), but Jordin and I hope to dance more throughout the summer. Hearing the song “Despacito” on the radio is great, though I prefer the original version which is all in Spanish. But I’m glad this song is spreading even more throughout the world, because it is pretty catchy (and would play at least five times in one night in a bar in Santiago).

Before I get into my reflections/final thoughts, I created a video documenting our experience in Chile with lots of little video clips that I shot throughout our 7.5 months. The video is a great way to see a lot of what we did, especially if you didn’t see pictures and/or read much of the blog! And if you’re reading this through your email, please didn’t click on the title of the post to see this post through the website, as videos tend to have fewer problems when played through the actual website. So click on the title or click on this!

VIDEO PREVIEW: the crowded metro, our host parents and host toddler (Leo), the time I woke up to a tarantula next to my bed, our travels to Buenos Aires and Mendoza in Argentina, Chilean Patagonia, Machu Picchu in Peru, and to the north of Chile in the Atacama Desert (La Serena and San Pedro). And of course, salsaaaaa! Enjoy, and please ask me any questions if you have them (I’ve shown this video as a presentation of sorts, so I’m used to explaining certain parts).

 

 

REFLECTIONS

There are countless reasons why I’m glad I lived in Chile this year, and so much of that is the immersive experience – Jordin and I came to Chile with Spanish immersion as the main goal. We both took Spanish classes in college, starting with Spanish 101 during our freshman fall semesters, but that was only about three hours a week, which is nothing. We both learned a lot of grammar and vocabulary, but there is only so much you can learn in a classroom. Throughout our 7.5 months in Chile, I learned so much just by living in a Spanish-speaking country, especially because we lived with a family who didn’t speak any English. It was obligatorio to speak in and improve our Spanish. Below are some Spanish phrases that are incredibly common – I heard them multiple times a day – that I only learned by being immersed:

  • “[Espero] que te vaya bien!” = I hope it goes well [for you]!
  • “[Espero] que te estes bien!” = I hope you are well!
  • “Voy” = Coming! (The direct translation of this is “I go”, which isn’t correct in English; the English-to-Spanish translation would be “Vengo” or “Estoy viniendo”, but that’s just not correct in Spanish)
  • “Me parece bien” = Sounds good to me
  • “Lo que pasa es que…” = What happens is…
  • “Viste?” = You see?
  • “A ver..?” = Let’s see…
  • “Te gustó?” = Do/did you like it?
  • “Sí o sí” = Definitely

 

Fantastic English words that sadly don’t exist in Spanish:

  • Creepy
  • Fancy
  • Awkward (people use “incomodo/a” for this, which means “uncomfortable”, but I think there are differences between “awkward” and “uncomfortable” in certain situations)

 

Public health observations:

  • As I’ve mentioned before, there is a huge cash culture in Chile – it is very common to buy fresh produce, packaged food, and freshly cooked/prepared food on the street. There were many vendors outside the Universidad Católica metro station, which is where our salsa/bachata classes were located, selling all sorts of vegan sandwiches and desserts. I would buy a sandwich there when I was out all day and wasn’t going home for dinner (and they were DELICIOUS). Street food like that just isn’t as common in the U.S., and when it is, there are a number of health codes that have to be followed (whether they are or not is another story). In Chile, it is extremely common for people to buy fresh food on the street and not give it a second thought. Packaged food is sold cheaply on the street, and especially on the metro: you can buy two huge chocolate bars for 1000 pesos ($1.50 USD), three big Snickers bars for 500 ($0.75 USD), etc. While produce is also sold on the street, it’s not nearly as widespread as candy and junk food. Obviously pre-packaged food is much easier to transport, but I think this is a huge contributor to the sugar consumption here, as well as the fact that junk food is often considered a snack, not a dessert. I constantly saw people on the metro eating this food on their way home from work (also, no one walks around with a snack NOR a water bottle, as I do), and at home the typical dinner is white bread with meat and/or cheese and/or jam and/or avocado – the snack and dinner combined don’t make a very balanced meal. I noticed that while there isn’t as much obvious obesity in Santiago as there is in the U.S., there are still many overweight people (according to this NPR article from August 2016, 67% of people above age 15 are overweight or obese).
  • Warning stickers on packaged food – In June 2016, food labels in Chile changed to chilean-logoinclude stickers that look like black stop signs, informing consumers of the calories, sugar, saturated fat, and sodium in packaged food (e.g. “Alto en calorías”). In my host family and in public, I noticed the extremely high consumption of sugary drinks (or, to put it another way, drinking things other than water). Juice, coffee and tea (with anywhere from 2-5 teaspoons of added sugar), soda, carbonated fruit juice, and more are widespread and common. In my house, people only drank water at lunch, if any at all, and no more than two small glasses. I chug water all day long, especially while eating, so this was definitely a cultural difference for me. According to the same NPR article as above, Chile is the “world’s largest per capita consumer of sugary drinks”, ahead of both Mexico and the United States. No surprise that cardiac problems and diabetes are the leading causes of death and Chile’s most chronic public health issues. Also, there are pharmacies EVERYWHERE in Santiago – literally on every corner. Someone told me once that because of the high frequency of pharmacies, it’s easy for everyone to walk into a pharmacy and get the necessary medication to treat their diabetes. These black stop sign-shaped labels were added to give the consumer an idea of what’s in their food before buying it, since people often take a very short time to decide if they’ll buy something or not. I do think this is a good idea, but I also think people can be confused about what the stickers mean. For example, Jordin and I noticed that peanut butter sold in the supermarket has stickers advising that it’s high in calories and saturated fat. While this is true, if someone compares peanut butter to a candy bar which only has a sticker advising that it’s high in calories, they may think the candy bar is a better choice because it has fewer warning labels. Jordin and I talked about this a lot and concluded that while the stickers are a great idea in terms of informing consumers about the nutritional content of their packaged food, they can also be misleading. I learned in one of my public health meetings that black-labeled food also cannot be marketed to children under the age of 14, nor can it include toys or other material incentives.
  • The produce in Chile is unbelievably cheap. I know some of this comes from me comparing the Chilean prices to U.S. prices, but it really is very cheap and extremely affordable in Chile. Healthy food is always more expensive than unhealthy food everywhere, especially in restaurants. But in Santiago, there are farmers markets all over the city, both during the week and on the weekend, that everyone can afford – one person might spend 5000 Chilean pesos, or about $8 USD, for one person for the whole week. Jordin and I think our host family spent no more than $30 USD on a week’s worth of produce for the entire family – 5 adults, 1 toddler, and whatever guests eat at the house a few times throughout the week. I realize that part of this price is become all of the produce is grown in Chile, but unfortunately the food subsidies in the U.S. are directed toward food other food, much of which isn’t particularly healthy for us.

 

General reflections

While I’m not completely fluent in Spanish, my language skills improved drastically and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I had to live in Chile for this year. I know this was worth it, not just for the Spanish skills but for this immersion experience as a whole, especially living with a Chilean family and having to create a life for myself (finding jobs, friends, hobbies, etc).  

  • I’m very glad that I stayed in Chile for the time that I did in terms of what I want to do afterward, but Jordin and I think that staying for about another year would be ideal in terms of improving our Spanish even more and solidifying our relationships. We only met the majority of our friends in Santiago in February, the people who became our solid two groups of friends (Spanglish and salsa), and even though we spent a lot of time with them in those three months afterward, staying for more time would be much better to really solidify those friendships.
  • If you’re interested in improving your Spanish AND are living someone for a longer period of time, it would be better to get an actual job instead of teaching English. I’m so glad I taught English because of my relatively short timeframe here, but teaching English means that you’re speaking English. Jordin and I definitely did this the right way in terms of our timeframe here, in that we didn’t teach too much (1-2 classes a day), and our only friends here were Spanish-speakers (with Kimberley, our TEFL course teacher, as our exception). Additionally, if I stayed in Chile for more time, I wouldn’t be able to teach English for much longer because it wasn’t mentally stimulating enough for me. I loved seeing my students improve over the months I taught them, especially the student with whom I started with in November when she didn’t know a word of English, and finished with in May having great conversations. She’s definitely still a beginner, but it made me feel really good knowing she learned so much over the 6 months that I taught her.
  • I’ve heard from a few people and read on a few websites about teaching English falling into the “voluntourism” or “white savior” category. While I think this can be a problem in some cases, I always made sure to ask my students what they wanted out of our classes rather than projecting my beliefs onto them. American English isn’t the only type of English, and I made sure my students knew that when we began classes. I found students who wanted to learn English for themselves, for their jobs, to travel, etc. I wasn’t taking the role of a teacher would may have had more training – my students chose me as their teacher and kept me for however long they wanted, and for a few of my students, that was the entire six and a half months that I was teaching.
  • When I studied abroad for a semester during my junior spring at Wesleyan (also documented on this same blog), it was crucial to be flexible, because our schedules were packed and constantly changing. We were constantly moving around within the cities, and had to be ready for change at all times. I’ve definitely become even more flexible during my time in Chile through two things: teaching English and dancing. Jordin has more experience with being flexible with students since for the first few months, his students happened to be extremely flaky; you always have to be ready for your students to cancel class without much of a warning. In terms of dancing, especially in salsa as the “follower”, I have to be ready for whatever move the leader does. When a song plays in the salsoteca and I get up to dance with someone, I have no idea what move my partner will do next, and I have to be ready for anything. I messed up ALL THE TIME on the dancefloor, and part of that is because I like to know what’s coming next – I’m an organized person and I like to know what’s coming around the bend in most situations, though I know that’s not usually how life works (especially in my current job search…). I learned to become more physically and mentally flexible, and just roll with the punches while dancing. It sounds a little silly, but I think this definitely does apply to life outside the salsoteca as well – even though messing up is inevitable, it’s important to take life as it comes, but remember to smile and have fun along the way.

 

Regrets

  • My only real regret is that I didn’t start the salsa/bachata classes with Jordin until the beginning of February, and he started in the middle of November. Through these classes, our social lives and bodies became much more active, I felt that I had another community, and I was finally dancing again and having a blast.
  • I think many foreigners that do something like we did often have regrets about the language immersion, and I know this based on people I’ve met and stories I’ve heard. Though I’m not 100% fluent in Spanish, I did as much as possible to immerse myself in Spanish every day:
    • Jordin and I surrounded ourselves with Spanish-speakers, both in our host family and our friends (many foreigners stick with their English-speaking friends if it’s a study abroad program, or find English-speaking friends when they arrive).
    • I listened to music in Spanish, particularly the popular reggaeton songs, as well as salsa and bachata music.
    • We didn’t teach English a lot – my typical work week consisted of teaching 1-2 English classes per day, though it changed each week. That was enough for me to pay my rent every month, and that was the goal here. If I taught a few more classes each day, I could have earned and saved much more money, but I would be spending so much time in English, and that went directly against my goal here of immersing myself in Spanish.

 

What I will miss about Chile

  • My amazingly generous and warm host family, and Aly’s (host mom) delicious cooking!
  • Very reliable public transportation, and the way people organize themselves: during rush hour when there are hundreds and hundreds of people trying to get into the metro, people form nice, orderly lines while they wait to tap their card. This is also the case for busses outside on the street – a neat, quiet line!
  • Being in a city next to the Andes mountains – it can’t get much more beautiful than that.
  • How cheap fruits and vegetables are, ESPECIALLY avocados, and how readily available they are to everyone.They’re cheaper in the farmer’s markets, but still very reasonable in supermarkets as well. A few days before we left, Jordin and I hung out with Kimberley for the last time, and bought all of this at the feria, all for under $5: 1 kilo (2.2 pounds) of carrots, 4 little cucumbers, 1 kilo of strawberries, and 2 kilos of grapes. All of this would cost at LEAST $25 in the states (especially the grapes).
  • The garden: fresh lemons (all year round), apricots, peaches, avocados, almonds, various spices
  • Fruit juice is offered in all bars (a nice alternative to alcohol) – usually it was a sort of mix between juice and a smoothie. Because it’s Chile, there’s no telling how much sugar is added, but each restaurant/bar is different.
  • Everyone is super close with family, and Sundays are often family day. Our host family’s relatives would drop by all the time, and they were always welcome to stay for a meal.
  • People are very generous and hospitable – so many of our friends told us that when we come back, we have a place to stay (and some even offered a place to live and even a job!). At one Spanglish in December, a girl invited me to her small, intimate birthday party at her house which was the following day! Additionally, so many emails and texts are signed with “un abrazo grande” (a big hug) and/or “besos” (kisses), and this even happened if I had never met them before!
  • Salsa cubana! This was by far my favorite activity in Chile, and is what pained me the most to leave. Going to salsotecas every weekend was so much fun, and we really developed a community of friends and acquaintances through our twice weekly classes and our twice, thrice, or even four-times weekly nights in the salsoteca!
  • Seeing people selling all sorts of stuff on the metro/micro (bus)/street: flashlights, handwarmers, rice cakes, chocolate bars, water bottles (everywhere – no one carries their own water bottle), flowers, etc. The list goes on.

 

What I will not miss about Chile

  • The amount of sugar and salt added to everything: in juice, on plain fruit (sugar was added to strawberries that were already incredibly sweet), and in regular dinners. I’m definitely not missing the salad of lettuce, lemon juice, and a big pinch of salt on top.
  • White bread
  • Getting stared at in the street and on public transportation, and of course the endless catcalling (“piropo”).
  • Every house and apartment building in the neighborhood is gated, and it isn’t common to be friends with or even know your neighbors.
  • “What did you study in university? Oh, so you’re a psychologist?” “No, the university system is different in the states…I want to work in public health, and later get a master’s in that.” “So why didn’t you go/transfer to a university that offered public health in the first place?”
  • Flooded lawns – when people water their lawns, they do it until the grass becomes a swamp. This is not the right idea for a city that’s often in drought.
  • People assuming that I didn’t like something just because I’m not actively expressing that I love it, or assuming that I’m angry because I’m not saying anything – Jordin and I think this is the Chilean version of the “resting bitch face”. A few times at breakfast when I wasn’t talking, my host mom said, “Why are you so quiet? Are you angry?”, when I was actually just really tired! And another time, Jordin and I left a party at our friend’s apartment at 2:30am (“early”) because we were tired, and afterward we received a bunch of texts that said, “What happened? Are you mad at us? I hope you’re okay!” I definitely appreciate people checking up on me, but these experiences made me think that if I don’t show extreme emotion on either side of the scale, I must be either angry or sad.
  • People greeting each other with the typical Chilean greeting, a kiss on the cheek, and then saying, “So I’ve been pretty sick…” ?!? I know that handshakes can actually be worse than a cheek kiss in terms of germs, but I definitely don’t like learning that someone is sick AFTER their face has touched mine.
  • The smoking culture (cigarettes)
  • People eat sandwiches and pizza with a fork and knife – while this sometimes makes sense, there are many times where it doesn’t and just looked ridiculous (coming from a typical American perspective).

 

What I’m excited for (all of which I’m still very excited about even though I’m already home):

  • Cooking for and serving myself
  • Cats!!!
  • A normal sleeping and waking schedule, especially after our last month, when the earliest I ever got home was 11pm (on a regular weeknight), but the earliest on a weekend was 2:30 or 3am.
  • My mom’s homemade bread and delicious coffee
  • Homemade food without (much) salt
  • SPICES! 5-6+ spices in Chilean food is considered a TON – the only spices Chileans use are merkén, salt, salt, and more salt.

 

Typical Chilean foods we tried (even though veganism isn’t common in Chile, we still tried almost every typical Chilean dish – our host mom, Aly, veganized some for us!) 

  • Dishes
    • Charquican (stew) – potato, pumpkin, onion, garlic
    • Pastel de choclo – ground corn, veggie meat, other veggies
    • Pastel de papa
    • Pebre (dip – tomato, onion, cilantro, hot pepper, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt
    • Humita (ground corn and onion and spices, wrapped up in a corn husk and then boiled) – vegan!
    • Chupe de cochayuyo – usually made with cow’s milk and cheese on top. Bread soaked in soy milk, with vegetables (onion, tomato, pepper, garlic, fried hot pepper, olive oil) and cochayuyo, all put together and baked. 
    • Churrascas – “Chilean stovetop bread” – the bread looks a little like a small pita bread circle, which is baked on a grill and then topped with avocado, pebre, and merken
    • Sopaipilla – fried circular bread that is topped with avocado and pebre
    • Empanadas
    • Completos – the Chilean hot dog, topped with everything: avocado, tomato, mayo (not for us), and mustard. We tried this with vegan hot dogs (they exist here), and also one time just with the bread, avocado, and tomato.  
    • Chapalele – pancake-like thing made of potatoes and flour.
  • Drinks
    • Mote con huesillo – mote is a grain that reminds me of barley or farro, and huesillo is dried peach. This is a drink prepared with mote, peach juice (aka lots of sugar), and dried peaches. It’s sold on every corner in the center of Santiago, and is extremely popular in the summer.
    • Pisco – Chilean/Peruvian alcohol that is typically drunk in two different forms: pisco sour, or piscola (pisco + coke/pepsi).
    • Terremoto – Chilean drink made from pipeño (a sweet Chilean wine), grenadine, and a scoop of pineapple sorbet on top. For me, it’s demasiado dulce (way too sweet), but for Chileans, the more sugar the better.
  • Fruits/vegetables that don’t exist or aren’t readily available in the U.S.:
    • Homegrown avocados – they look like little eggplants, and you eat the skin!
    • Chirimoya – tropical fruit
    • Maracuya – tropical fruit
    • Alcayota – It looks like a honeydew but has an inside like a spaghetti squash. It’s pretty much only used to make jam (aka with cups and cups of added sugar)
    • Cochayuyo – sea vegetable
    • Tuna (“cactus pear”) – looks like a kiwi but with tons of seeds
    • Membrillo (fruit) – kind of acidic, sometimes they eat with salt or sugar
    • Noni – similar to a cucumber, filled with vitamins
    • Pepino dulce – literally translates to “sweet cucumber”. I wasn’t a huge fan.

 

After being home for exactly five weeks, this last post is finally complete. Thank you to everyone who followed our journey in Chile that started way back in September – whether you read only one post or every one (or didn’t read any and only followed through Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat), MUCHAS GRACIAS for your interest and for keeping up with us! I loved feeling so supported while I was 5000 miles away, and receiving your comments and questions after each post made me very happy. I’m so grateful that I had this experience in Chile, and especially that Jordin and I were together the whole time – we’ll remember this experience for the rest of our lives. There were definitely some crazy moments, some uncomfortable moments, and even a few scary moments, but all in all, I had a fabulous time. Muchas gracias a mis amig@s y familia en Chile – nos vemos la próxima vez!

Chao chao!

 

P.S. Jordin and I decided to compile a few tips and general information about our English-teaching experience in Chile, especially because we know at least a handful of people who are interested in teaching English abroad in the future, and it also really exemplifies how we grew as teachers during our time in Chile. I didn’t include that in this post because I wanted to keep the final post strictly to reflections, so please reach out if you want me to send you the English-teaching info!

 

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Salsa, salsa, salsa, y despedidas todo el rato: the final few days in Chile!

Holaaaaa amig@s! Jordin and I leave Chile tomorrow and that is ASTONISHING to both of us. I can’t believe we’ve been living here for almost eight months already…and that it’s almost over. Our schedules have been extremely packed since we got back from the Atacama Desert over a month ago, and they will continue to be until the moment we head to the airport. We’ve been going out A LOT, so I am pretty sleep deprived, and honestly pretty surprised that I haven’t been sick yet from my lack of sleep (***knocks on every piece of wood***). (EDIT: I wrote this over a week ago when I was initially planning to send this update, but last weekend I developed a cold that turned into a sore throat. Pero siempre salimos de todos modos!)

Before getting into my final update, PLEASE click on the title of this post (“Salsa, salsa, salsa…”) to read it from the web browser instead of from your email! This is especially important because I finally compiled and created a salsa video and you cannot watch it from the email – it often won’t show up on this page. So please please click on the title of this post to get everything out of it!

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The transition from summer to fall here was pretty stark – one night I was in shorts and a t-shirt, with just a thin sheet over me, and the next night I was in sweatpants with blankets on the bed. It’s been cold-cool in the mornings and evenings/night (in the 40s/50s), but generally warm-ish (anywhere in the 50s-60s-70s) during the day.

Chile has public holidays every month, and especially throughout April! I think there was a holiday every week for at least three weeks straight – they’re called “días feriados”.

  • March 29 – Día del joven combatiente (“Day of the Young Combatant”), but it’s often described as Día del joven delinquente (“Day of the Criminal Youth”). In 1985, there were two adolescent brothers who were killed in the street during the military regime. This is not actually a public holiday, but it’s a non-official commemoration of the deaths of the brothers, and to honor the young people who were killed during the dictatorship. However, every year there are numerous demonstrations and sometimes violent protests against whatever government is in power, and especially against the police. These often take place after dark, and there have been instances in certain parts of the city where it can be quite dangerous. Our salsa/bachata classes were postponed for another day (since they’re 7:30-10pm) and I cancelled my class right beforehand, and spent the evening at home. Wikipedia article here!
  • April 19 – Censo (census) – Every five years, Chile collects census data about people living in Chile, and this is a holiday because at least one person from each household has to be at home until they’ve completed the survey. People conducting the survey go to every house and apartment in the country of Chile. Our teacher from our TEFL course in October, Kimberley, told us that the asked her things like what she does for a living (but not her salary), if she has kids, and what her apartment is made of, and it only took five minutes overall. If the country is shut down for an entire day for census data that is only collected every five years, I think they could definitely do better. They could ask questions about salary, religion, if people can afford healthy food, how they pay their bills, etc. The last time they did the census, apparently something went wrong with the data and they couldn’t use any or all of it, so this is the first year it was made a national holiday.
  • May 1 – Día del trabajo (Labor Day) – There were many protests for workers to get better salaries (not new to anyone), and everyone has off from work.

Earthquakes!

Over the past few weeks, there have been many temblores, or tremors/baby earthquakes, throughout Chile. Chileans are used to temblores and usually don’t think anything of them if it’s under a 5 or 6 on the Richter Scale. But on Monday, April 24th, there was one that was centered in Valparaíso (on the coast) at a 7.1, and it was rated 6.9 in Santiago. This was a decently big deal and everyone was talking about where they were during it, what they felt, etc. However, I actually didn’t feel anything! I was either walking or sitting on a bench at the time, but didn’t know anything happened until I received a lot of texts in various group chats asking if everyone was okay. For people in buildings, especially on high stories, it was pretty scary, and even the Chileans were shaken up a bit (no pun intended). In the days that followed, I received the following message many times about earthquakes here and how they’re described for foreigners. It’s very funny – here it is in English (and afterward Spanish!):

Seismic manual for foreigners: In case of a telluric movement, the first thing to do is to find a Chilean. You can identify them because they are the ones that salt the food before you try it.

Degree of tremor / Reaction of the Chilean → Explanation.

  • 1 to 3 / Absolutely no reaction → We Chileans have mutated and we are unable to feel these smooth seismic movements. We are somewhat like the X-men of the Earthquake (find out other meanings of earthquake, in particular bebestibles).
  • 4 a 5 / No reaction → The Chilean knows that there’s shaking, but they will not interrupt what they’re is doing for something so pichiruchi (little thing).
  • 6 / The Chilean says: “It is trembling” → You will believe that it is the end of the world, but nothing actually happens: don’t even think of leaving, which is much more dangerous. Stay calm, watch the Chilean closely, and wait. And please do return to our country, or at least don’t give us a bad name, especially about the natural disasters that we have.
  • 7 / The Chilean says: “It’s strong” → We can start talking about the earthquake. In other countries it would be a cataclysm, but here the buildings are built strongly enough to endure the earthquake (and those that don’t already fell with other earthquakes of the past). All right, we understand if you never wants to return to Chile. Hire a good psychologist for post-traumatic stress, seriously.
  • 8 / Chilean: “CSM!” (An abbreviation for a common cursing phrase in Chile that stands for “concha su madre!”, or “Your mother’s cunt!”) → Place your feet firmly on the floor because if not, you will fall to the ground. Do exactly the same as the Chilean. Try not to cry or shout. It is very likely that nothing will happen, but if you have bad cuea (luck) then the building will split in two (shit happens).
  • 9+ / Chilean praying → The mansaca. Now it is actually the end of the world: the Apocalypse. Try to pray and think about your loved ones, because everything has come to an end.
  • Welcome to Chile!

Spanish: Manual sísmico para extranjeros: En caso de movimiento telúrico, lo primero que debe hacer es encontrar a un chileno. Los puede identificar porque son los que le echan sal a la comida antes de probarla.

Grado del temblor / Reacción del chileno → Explicación.

  • 1 a 3 / Absolutamente ninguna reacción → Los chilenos hemos mutado y somos incapaces de sentir movimientos sísmicos tan suaves. Somos algo así como los X-men del Terremoto (averiguar otras acepciones de terremoto, en particular bebestibles).
  • 4 a 5 / Ninguna reacción → El chileno sabe que está temblando, pero no va a interrumpir lo que está haciendo por algo tan pichiruchi (poca cosa). Tampoco va a interrumpir lo que no está haciendo.
  • 6 / El chileno dice: “Ta temblando” → Usted creerá que es el fin del mundo, pero no pasa nada, no se le ocurra salir, que es mucho más peligroso. Quédese tranquilo, mire al chileno con atención y espere. Y porfa vuelva a nuestro país, o por lo menos no nos haga mala fama, si no son taaantos los desastres naturales que tenemos  (ah no si no).
  • 7 / El chileno dice: “Ta fuerte” → Ya podemos empezar a hablar de terremoto. En otros países sería un cataclismo, pero acá las construcciones aguantan bastante (y las que no, ya se cayeron con otros terremotos del pasado). Está bien, comprendemos si no quiere volver nunca a Chile. Contrate un buen psicólogo para el estrés post traumático, la dura (en serio).
  • 8 / Chileno: “¡CSM!” (buscar significado de esa abreviatura) → Afírmese porque si no, se va a caer al suelo. Haga exactamente lo mismo que el chileno. Trate de no llorar y menos gritar. Es muy probable que no pase nada, pero le puede tocar la mala cuea (suerte) de que justo el edificio en que usted está se parta en dos (shit happens). Así nomá la cosa.
  • 9+ / Chileno rezando → La mansaca. Ahora sí que es el fin del mundo en serio, el Apocalipsis. Trate de rezar y pensar en sus seres queridos, porque todo ha llegado a su fin.
  • ¡Bienvenidos a Chile!

Every week, usually twice, and sometimes even 3-4 times (depending on the week), we go to salsotecas (salsa clubs) to dance the night away! We always go on Thursdays, but because of the many holidays, there have been long weekends as well, so Sunday night has been the new Saturday night! We always know at least a few people there, but not necessarily from our salsa/bachata classes – we often see the same people every week who go there to dance as well, and we greet each other like old friends. Every night is different, but the best nights are the ones where I dance a tonnnnnn. Sometimes I’ll dance 10 songs in the first hour – after each song, people leave the dance floor, but when you go to sit down, someone else will often ask you to dance. So you dance until you get a break to sit when no one asks, and those 4-5 minutes are bliss for the legs. My absolute favorite salsa song is called La Casa Por La Ventana – give it a listen if you want to hear the type of music we dance to for most of the week! My favorite bachata song is called Quitémonos La Ropa. I highly recommend listening to each for a least a minute to get a feel for the beat. Keep reading and later you’ll find the dancing video I finally created!

Small lil updates

  • A few weeks ago, we went to the Bahá’i Temple in Santiago. The Bahá’i faith is one that values all religions, and there are eight of these temples in the world. The only one in South America is here in Santiago, only 20 minutes from our house, located at the base of the Andes Mountains. It was very beautiful and peaceful.IMG_9817
  • I often go many days without seeing little toddler Leo – he goes to the “jardín” (preschool) from 8:30am-4:30, but I get up after he leaves, am home for parts of the day, but often leave before 4:30 and am out until at least 11pm, after he’s asleep.
  • Jordin and I have opposite schedules all the time – last Friday, I was out teaching 10:30am-12:30, came home, out again 2:45-7:30, came home, and then went out at 9:30. Jordin was out 12-4pm, came home, then left at 7pm and went straight from there to the bar with our friends. So I didn’t see him for 12 hours – that’s how our days are sometimes!
  • Last Saturday, Jordin and I went to the feria (“fair”, but is the equivalent of a farmer’s market) with our host parents for the second and last time – the first time was our first weekend in Chile! We bought some things for our day out on Sunday with our teacher: 1 kilo (2.2 pounds) of strawberries, 1 kilo of carrots, 4 cucumbers, and 2 kilos of grapes. Guess how much that all cost? Under $5 USD. Increíble.

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  • We had a few visits from some friends who were in Santiago for a few days – it’s always nice to see friends when we’re so far away! One of these friends is a good friend of ours from high school, who took Spanish for years up until IB/AP Spanish. He hasn’t really spoken it since then (five years ago), so he’s lost a bunch of it, but was still able to get by just fine in Santiago. However, listening to him speak made me realize how far I’ve come – this is not meant as an insult (I consulted with him about this before posting it). It wasn’t that he spoke badly, but he just lacks the fluidity which I only started to develop by my immersion here and being forced to speak Spanish every day. I don’t think anyone can really get to that point without spending time in a Spanish-speaking community and being forced to use it – you can know the grammar and vocabulary, but you must also listen and speak to improve and apply what you’ve learned. Even though I’m not leaving Chile fluent in Spanish as I originally hoped, I’ve improved dramatically and know that I can converse comfortably in Spanish and understand the majority of what’s being said. However, this is as long as they don’t speak at typical Chilean speed without enunciating (that is the epitome Chile); Jordin and I have a friend from salsa who speaks so fast that I literally only understand about 5/100 words he says. So am I leaving Santiago fluent in Spanish? No. Am I dreaming in Spanish? Unfortunately, no. But I AM dreaming in Spanglish, and I am most definitely dreaming in DANCE.

Communities in Chile

I’m someone who likes to be a part of at least one (but ideally various) communities in my life to feel socially fulfilled. Having a few good friends is important, but I love having a community of people who all know each other and spend time together over some common interest, especially in terms of social events. Our two main communities here are our salsa friends (the group is called Ritmo & Guapería) and Spanglish Party friends. But I didn’t really start feeling this until February, when I started the salsa/bachata classes (Jordin started in November…I was late to the party but considering it’s my favorite thing in Chile, better late than never) and when we met some of our current close friends from Spanglish (though we met los hermanos Valentina and Cristián in December). Our communities here have evolved since we arrived and started developing friendships and social lives. In October, we were taking our TEFL course, so our communities were our classmates and our Chilean host family. Only one of the four other students in the class besides us stayed in Chile afterward, so in November and December, our main community was our host family – they took us to lots of parties and gatherings, and we loved it. But naturally, I wanted a social life outside of them, and though we started going to Spanglish the first week of November, we didn’t meet the people we regularly hang out with until later. In January and February, we went to a lot of pool parties through Spanglish Party, where we met some of our current closest friends. Starting in February, we had many more weekend plans, mostly with Spanglish friends. And from March on, we went to the salsotecas every weekend, often with friends from our salsa/bachata classes. The last few months have been packed with plans. I LOVE seeing the same people at salsotecas every weekend, even those who aren’t in our classes, but we still recognize each other. And because we’re in Chile, the standard greeting is a kiss on the cheek and a hug. There are people I’ve seen and/or danced with at certain salsotecas that I’ve seen at others, and we greet each other like friends – I love that. Our two main communities are salsa/bachata and Spanglish, but the past few weeks have just been packed with dancing. Going to a salsoteca is nothing like going to a discoteca (a club) or anything similar in the United States, because people go to the salsotecas to actually dance, not to try to meet someone by unknowingly grinding up on them, which happens in every club and frat party in the U.S. Even during a very sensual bachata, no one makes out on the dance floor unless they’re already a couple, and even then, it’s usually just a peck. People are so friendly in salsotecas, and are of all ages – I’ve danced with men in their 20s to their 60s/70s (though mostly in their 20s/30s). Dance culture here is totally different than in the states – for example, at all of our twice-weekly salsa and bachata classes, there are ALWAYS more men than women. In all of my dance experience at home, the vast majority was always women. I love that aspect of it in Chile because that means I always have a partner (we keep switching, so all men will be partnerless at times). I also think that there’s often a stereotype in the U.S. that men who can dance (more specifically, men who can move their hips) are gay, but we haven’t found that stereotype to be true here.

The final schedule

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we have been going out a LOT and the schedule is absolutely packed. Aside from our last day teaching, we have many “despedidas”, or farewells, with all sorts of people throughout the week. Here is our (mostly nighttime) schedule for our final two weeks here (even though most of this has already passed):

  • Wednesday, May 3 – salsa and bachata classes at night
  • Thursday, May 4 – salsoteca
  • Friday, May 5 – karaoke with friends from salsa/bachata classes
  • Saturday, May 6 – BBQ and then salsoteca for despedidas (farewells) with our salsa friends (we stayed until the salsoteca actually closed, and got home after 5am).
  • Sunday, May 7 – spent the afternoon/evening with Kimberley, our amazing teacher and good friend from our TEFL course in October.
  • Monday, May 8 – salsa/bachata classes at night. The dance teachers created a goodbye video for us, with pictures of Jordin and me traveling and dancing in Chile – very unexpected and so unbelievably nice. 
  • Tuesday, May 9 – final Spanglish Party at night
  • Wednesday, May 10 – Final day of teaching English!; final salsa/bachata classes :(
  • Thursday, May 11 – final night at a salsoteca: la despedida with other salsa friends
  • Friday, May 12 – party at a friend’s apartment for la despedida with our Spanglish friends (photos at the bottom). Our friends also created a goodbye video for us (again, unexpected, and again, unbelievably sweet) with pictures of Jordin and me in Chile and with our Spanglish friends. They also gave us a Chilean flag that they all signed with beautiful messages – I feel very lucky!
  • Saturday, May 13 – dinner with our host family and their close friends whom we know very well
  • Sunday, May 14 – Mother’s Day lunch with the extended family, and then nos vamos :(
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Final Spanglish Party

Finally, below is the salsa video I have been saying that I’ll post for months now. Don’t be alarmed when you see it’s 8 minutes long – it’s divided into a few different clips, and you can either watch it all OR choose the clips of your liking. But I highly recommend watching at least the first 2-3 minutes – it shows what our twice weekly classes look like and how much fun they are, and our despedidas in a salsoteca this past Saturday night. A disclaimer: Jordin has dancing skills in his blood (maybe from some distant relative many moons ago). I don’t have those innate skills – I love dancing, but it doesn’t come as naturally to me, and doesn’t look as natural either. (Sidenote – in bachata, the girl often flips her hair throughout the song in different movements, and our female bachata teacher does it INCREDIBLY! Her hair always lands perfectly and looks the same as before, if not better. My hair doesn’t work like that – the bachata is a sensual dance, but one flip of my hair and it’s all in front of my face. Not exactly that suave and sensual look for my partner). Even though I danced through most of high school and all of college, I don’t have the more formal dance training that Jordin had during his four years of ballroom dancing at Tufts. However, though I’m not a naturally gifted dancer, I absolutely LOVE dancing salsa and I have the best time doing it. As our teachers here told us, “Lo más importante es pasarlo bien” (The most important thing is to enjoy yourself/have fun!). So keep that in mind as you watch :)

Video table of contents:

  • 0:00-0:10: what our salsa/bachata classes look like “en rueda” (a circle)
  • 0:11-2:50 : Salsa en rueda (our final class on Wednesday night) – this is what a typical class looks like! The teacher calls out the steps (listen for them) and you dance them with your partner, and change partners constantly. This was our final class, so the teachers did this after both salsa and bachata ended for our última rueda – I can’t even explain how much I’m going to miss this. It’s just so much fun! Props to anyone who can find Jordin and me in here!
  • 2:51-4:22: despedidas (farewells) at a salsoteca this past Saturday night. Every night at most salsotecas, they play a special birthday song, and if it’s your birthday, you dance for the entire song with all of the people who line up to dance with you! They pass you along to the next person after 20-30 seconds of dancing. I can’t say I danced my best, but it was really fun!
  • 4:23-4:49: Jordin dancing salsa
  • 4:50-5:12: Rachael dancing salsa
  • 5:13-6:00-:Jordin dancing bachata
  • 6:01-6:33: Rachael dancing bachata
  • 6:34-6:41 Jordin and our friend Melh dancing salsa in a salsoteca
  • 6:42-7:11: salsa show in the salsoteca (we don’t know any of them personally)
  • 7:12-end: A different clip of the final rueda on Wednesday (our last class). If you listen and watch people’s movements and energies, you can tell that everyone is having a blast. Even though it was about 50º outside at the time, my body and my heart were full of energy at the end, and I didn’t need my winter coat on the way home.

Can you see the video above? If not, it’s because you’re reading this through your email and didn’t click on the link at the top of the blog (the title of the post). Videos often only work through the actual website, so please click on the title or click on this to go watch it! I promise it’s worth it!

As mentioned above, last Saturday night was our despedidas with our dance friends in a salsoteca – more than 40 people from Ritmo & Guapería came! It was a fantastic night. That was the day I had just developed my cold and wasn’t feeling the best, so I prepped by drinking coffee at 5pm (which is WAY too late for me – I usually can’t drink coffee in the afternoon at all, a concept that is completely foreign to Chileans), but I realized that I may actually be awake for the next 12 hours (which I was).

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Wednesday night was our last night of dance classes, and it was by far one of my favorite nights in Chile. We took a group photo at the end of salsa, and in between salsa and bachata, they played my absolute favorite salsa song (the link is above – La Casa Por La Ventana) and did the same thing that we did on Saturday at the salsoteca: Jordin and I danced with the center for the entire time while our partners switched around! After the bachata class, we took many more photos and hugged everyone multiple times. We also took some great (albeit blurry) photos with the dance teachers. This has truly been my favorite part of my experience in Chile – a community of incredibly warm and welcoming people who love to dance and pasarlo bien – and it’s by far one of the hardest things for me to leave. Jordin and I are planning on looking for salsotecas in Philly this summer, but we realized that we don’t know the steps in English! Spanglish would be great though.

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The best salsa and bachata teachers (they dance like professionals)

Thank you so much for reading! This is the last post I’ll send while I’m in Chile, and I will write and send the final post with reflections, regrets, aha moments, what I’ll miss and what I won’t, English-teaching tips (Jordin and I are collaborating on this one), and a full list of all of the typical Chilean food and drink we’ve had here (of course I started recording this as soon as I arrived) in the next few weeks. Until then, thank you for following along! Aly (host mom) is making a few of our favorite dishes for our final days here: our favorite (yes, we have the same favorite because #twins) is hamburguesa de betarraga – a “burger” made of shredded beets, carrots, garlic, sometimes potato, and congealed together with a bit of flour. This isn’t the least bit Chilean, as it is very vegetable-heavy, not super salty, and doesn’t contain corn, bread, or sugar, but it’s very Aly! I hope to see you in the U.S. soon! Muchísimos besos y abrazos!!

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L@s herman@s – we really feel like siblings.

In the driest desert in the worrrrrrrrrrld: San Pedro de Atacama!

Happy April and happy spring or fall, wherever you are! I absolutely love the fall weather here – the crisp air, the crunchy leaves, and the colors. It’s nowhere near as beautiful as fall in the Northeast, especially in New England, but it’ll do for now. If you’re reading this in an email, please please click on the title of this blog (or this link) to read it from the website! Otherwise you can’t see the videos (they just don’t show up in the emails)! *EDIT: videos did not make it into this post – they’ll be in the next one!*

Almost three weeks ago, Jordin and I left for our final trip during our time in Chile – to San Pedro de Atacama! The Atacama Desert is in the north of Chile, covering approximately 41,000 square miles (thank you Wikipedia), and is the driest AND highest non-polar desert in the world, and is known for being one of the best (if not THE best) places in the world to see the stars. At the beginning of 2017, the NY Times published an article about the best places to visit in 2017: #1 is Canada (I agree), and #2 is the Atacama Desert! I was lucky enough to visit both of these places for the first time in the same year, and would love to return. I know it seems like we’ve been doing a lot of traveling in the past few months (which we have), but we chose to go to the Atacama the first weekend in April because of the moon! When we were in La Serena at the end of February, we did an astronomy tour there, and it was during the new moon, so the sky was the darkest it could possibly be and we could see much more than when the moon is out. We planned this trip according to the moon calendar, and the new moon was at the very end of March and very end of April. We didn’t want to put off this 4-5 day trip until the end of April, as that is just a couple weeks before we return to the U.S., and we felt we would rather travel to the Atacama sooner so we can spend our final weeks just in Santiago.

*Here is a 45-minute History Channel documentary about how the Atacama Desert was formed and why it’s the driest place on earth, if you’re interested!* 

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Thursday, March 30

After just a two-hour flight from Santiago, where we deliberately chose seats on the right side of the plane to have a view of the Andes the entire flight, we arrived in Calama on Thursday at 4pm. The town of San Pedro is about 100km/62 mi from Calama, or about 1.5 hours by car. The town of San Pedro reminded me a lot of Santa Fe, NM: full of one-story buildings built from adobe. The town is very small, with one main street, a plaza, and a few other streets surrounding that area, which makes it very walkable. Every other door/shop is a travel agency, and the rest are hostels, restaurants, or souvenir shops. Jordin and I are planners, and didn’t want to arrive there without set tours/plans for each day, but we realized that it’s entirely possible to go there without any plans and simply book the tours the day before or even day-of.
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Our first dinner there was at a vegetarian/vegan restaurant (yes, it exists up there!), then we arranged a bike rental for the next day, and at 8pm, we got picked up at our hostel for our astronomy tour (most of our tours picked us up at our hostel, which was very convenient). This tour was led by a man named Jorge, who greeted us as “Mr. and Mrs. Metz” – Jordin and I have been mistaken for a couple too many times when we go places, especially since we often arrive together and I have a bad habit of talking in the “we” form. Anyway, Jorge took our group of 10 to his house, where he has 13 telescopes in his backyard! First was a 1.5 hour astronomy lesson, then a very intricate snack with hot drinks prepared by his assistant (his wife), and then an hour or so looking through all of his telescopes – here are just a handful of interesting things we learned:

  • There are 88 official constellations in the sky – in the 1920s, they divided the sky into 88 quadrants, each with one constellation. Just like the world is mapped by latitude and longitude, the sky is mapped using quadrants of constellations.
  • In the southern hemisphere, the North Star doesn’t exist, and there is no South Star. You see the Southern Cross, a constellation that doesn’t exist in the northern hemisphere, which will help you find the approximate location of the South Pole.
  • WE move, not the sky – throughout the night, the locations of the constellations kept shifting because of the rotation of the earth.
  • We saw the MILKY WAY, as we also did in La Serena!! I actually think that the sky in La Serena was slightly better in terms of what we could see, and the new moon definitely was the main cause of that.
  • Our guide Jorge used to work at the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), which is the biggest telescope/astronomical operation in the world, and a partnership of various countries. We passed by it while driving through the Atacama – there are satellite dishes everywhere. It’s altitude is 5000 meters (16,404 feet).
  • Jorge is not only an astronomer, but an astro-photographer as well! He snapped this incredible photo – it was a very long exposure (this took 1-2 minutes to take):

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Friday, March 31

On Friday morning, we went to the bike shop to pick up our bikes we were renting for half of the day. We arrived at 9:15am, and the shop was supposed to open at 9, but because this is Chile, no one arrived until 9:40. We were planning on biking to Valle de La Muerte (Death Valley), which is just a few kilometers from San Pedro, but the woman at the shop told us we could also get to a few other places before going to Valle de La Muerte in our 5-hour timeframe (we had a tour at 4pm) so we could see more of the area. She gave us a map, and we headed off to our destination #1: Pukara de Quitor. After biking for 20 minutes, we arrived and climbed a small hill with a very pretty view, and then saw some stone faces that look cool and ancient but actually are pretty new. IMG_8757

Then we set out for destination #2: Quebrada del Diablo. We followed the map we were given (note: map was definitely not to scale), and we we looked for the bridge the bike woman told us we had to cross. Well let’s just say that there was no bridge, but we had to cross a river (it winds its way through this area of the desert) eight times in total: four times on the way there, and four on the way back. The first three crosses went pretty smoothly – we had to bike through the river, but it wasn’t too wide nor deep, and even though our pants and hiking boots got pretty wet each time, they dried rapidly afterward. (Quick shoutout to Eastern Mountain Sports for providing me with the best hiking pants and hiking boots ever – these things have seen a lot in their short lives, and I’ve never gotten tired of them. I wore them for two weeks straight in Patagonia and then Machu Picchu, and my pants didn’t even smell afterward! Amazing. EMS, if you would like to sponsor me, I would be delighted.) But THEN we got to the fourth crossing – it was wider, deeper, and the current was significantly faster. I went first – I started a little far away and flew through the river at lighting speed….and then fell over completely up to my hands and knees. Jordin was actually going to record this since we both anticipated something happening, but sadly did not, so no one has the pleasure of reliving that except for the two of us, in our minds. Jordin crossed next, but moved a little upstream where the river wasn’t as wide – while he didn’t fall in, his bike didn’t make it across so he jumped off and his bike starting floating down the river! Please see this incredible photo for evidence: IMG_0426

IMPORTANT NOTE: Waterproof hiking boots are the BEST in every situation, that is until water actually gets inside them, and then they’ll be soaking wet for hours upon hours. After this eventful 4th river crossing of the day, we kept trudging along to try and find a church, which would signify that we were close to the Quebrada del Diablo. It’s also important to note that 99% of the roads were sand, which was unbelievably difficult to bike through, and also slowed down our trip by a lotttttttt. Eventually we just turned around because it was already 12:30 and we hadn’t encountered anything, so we had to cross the river four times over again. The first crossing was the biggest one from before, and this time Jordin filmed me crossing it – while I did not fall off my bike completely like I did before, I did not make it across, and my shoes and pants were completely submerged in the river once again (stay tuned for a video in a few weeks when I compile all of our clips). Of course, Jordin was fine. On the way to Valle de la Muerte, we stopped to squeeze out our socks and shoes three times because they were so soaked. The first part was slightly uphill in sand for three kilometers. The views were incredible, but we were absolutely exhausted at this point. We reached some gorgeous sand dunes where people were sandboarding! This meant there was only 1 kilometer left – we started it biking, but then when the sand got to be a few inches deep and literally impossible to bike in, we left the bikes on the side of the “road” and walked the last kilometer, which was uphill to the viewpoint. Finally, FINALLY, we reached the top and it was absolutely 100% worth it. 

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It took us over an hour from the entrance to get to the top (4 km total), but the way from the viewpoint all the way back to the town of San Pedro (about 6km/3.7mi) took under 25 minutes, because the majority was downhill. And after leaving Valle de La Muerte, we were finally on pavement instead of sand! But before we reached pavement, Jordin fell off his bike twice in the sand, and one of those falls was while he was recording a video :) We think we biked about 26 km/16 miles that day, mostly in sand, and we felt it in our legs and butts for the next few days (those bike seats were not very comfortable). And we were definitely responsible for some rusting of those bikes. Another reason it was so difficult was because the air was so dry, in some parts less than 10% humidity, and we weren’t accustomed to the altitude. But we were both so excited to get back to San Pedro, even though we didn’t have time for lunch before our next tour. Even though the last few hours were excruciating at times, we motivated each other through it – there was a time that I wanted to quit and Jordin kept me going, and a little later he wanted to stop and I pushed him – that’s what twins/siblings/friends are for. We both shed blood (we each fell twice), sweat, and tears throughout the day, but the views and experiences were absolutely worth it.

LESSONS LEARNED:

  • If you have a tight timeframe, go to the best place first!
  • Always bring neosporin (sorry Mom).
  • If you have the chance to rent bikes for a whole day in the Atacama instead of just a half day, do it.
  • If you ever have the opportunity to bike on sand and think it will be cool, it won’t.
  • Never assume that the map is to scale.
  • #PantsInSocks (I wouldn’t bike any other way)
  • Always bring a twin with you if you can :)

Our one tour on Friday was to go to Valle de La Luna (Moon Valley)! First we went to Las Tres Marias (The Three Marias), which is a rock formation that “looks like” three women(a priest in the 1950s said that). They were considered sacred before being named Las Tres Marias, and are right off of a road that used to be the main route to San Pedro, especially to bring water to the people who worked in the mines.

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There used to be five different mines here – the valley is covered with white stuff that looks like snow but this is a desert – it’s actually salt! There are four different mountain ranges in the Atacama: the Andes and the coastal mountains (which formed through tectonic plate action), the Domeyko range (formed from plutonic rock processes), and the salt mountains (formed through the accordion effect, which is the pressure on the ground from the Andes and Domeyko, squeezing the earth up in between the two ranges). The only range that doesn’t have volcanos is the salt range. We then went to see some perfect sand dunes and then to Coyote Point to watch the sunset! 
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Saturday, April 1

Our first tour today (called Geisers Tatio/Tatio Geysers) started at 4:30am! We were dressed in our many layers for the first time – t-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, long-sleeve fleece, fleece jacket, windbreaker, hat, and gloves! We drove for about an hour and a half before reaching the third biggest geothermal field in the world (the first biggest is Yellowstone National Park, and the second is in Russia)! This field has about 100 geysers, and approximately 80% of them are active. The best time to see the geysers is at sunrise because when the air starts warming up, the change in pressure causes the geysers to erupt more rapidly (hence the early start time).IMG_8990
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From there, we went to some hot springs! Only three people in our group of 12-14 chose to go in – Jordin and I specifically chose this tour so we would have the chance to swim. The altitude here was4250m/14,000 feet – we were in the Andes mountain range, surrounded by snow-capped mountains! The air outside was freezing, so taking off all of my layers was very difficult, but getting in the water was worth it. It wasn’t extraordinarily hot, but just enough that I warmed up immediately. But getting out was extremely difficult… 

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We then went to see Volcán de la Putana, or “Volcano of the Prostitute” – prostitutes used to come for the miners that worked here. We returned to San Pedro around 11:30am, and I felt like I had been out all day and it was already nighttime.

We got lunch and walked around for a while, and then went on our second tour of the day: Laguna Cejar. We drove 18km/11 miles outside of San Pedro to Laguna Cejar, an area with three different lagoons, one of which is the saltiest body of water in the world – more than the Dead Sea in Israel! It’s called Laguna Piedra and is 33% salt, which means that you float the minute you get in, and that our wounds from the previous day’s biking excursion stung a bit. There are often flamingoes near these lagoons, but unfortunately we didn’t see any. After getting out, we were absolutely covered in salt, and that salt moved onto our backpacks, hats, sunglasses, and camera. We took quick showers in the little spickets that were there, but there was still salt in my hair and on my skin for the entire day. 

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We then went to Ojos de Salar (salt eyes), which is a salt field where the salt looks like snow (as it all does here), and two giant holes in the ground of freshwater (called“agua dulce” in Spanish, which literally translates to “sweet water”) because it’s filtered through clay. You can swim in these, but they’re much deeper than the other two places we swam that day, were probably pretty cold, and you had to jump down 10-15 feet. So that was a hard pass on our part. These were especially cool because they reflected the sky incredibly well! 

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We then went to an area where we walked along the shore of a lagoon for 25 minutes before watching the sunset with some snacks and pisco sours with our tour group.Mind you, we were at least at a 4000 m/13,000 ft. altitude at this point, so I felt my half glass of pisco sour almost immediately. We met some great people in our group, including two siblings from Germany around our age who are traveling through South America for six months and are vegetarians! What a place to find some very similar people. Something else we learned today: there are places in the Atacama Desert where it hasn’t rained for 23 million years! WHOA!

Sunday, April 2

Our tour today was the smallest of all of them – just three people and a guide. This was fantastic because we were in a car instead of a big van, and we had the opportunity to really talk and get to know each other. The other person was a girl from Germany, also age 23, who is spending a few months in Chile on a break from medical school. This tour was very different than the others because it was so small, and because our tour guide Pablo Pedro did the tour in the opposite order than other tours – he drove us to the farthest place first (180 km/111 miles from San Pedro), and then on the way back we made a lot of stops, so we avoided the big tourist rush in the typical tours. However, Pablo Pedro also took us to places that weren’t necessarily touristy, so we were often the only people there!Laguna 3-road pic

Here’s where we went:

  • Salar de talar/Aguas Calientes (4100 m/13,451 ft) – the water was very light blue like in the Caribbean, and we were only about 50 km/31 miles from the border of Argentina!IMG_0499
  • Laguna Tuyacto – this was a huge lake, very blue, surrounded by mountains of all colors. We ate lunch on the shore here and it was probably the best view I’ll ever have while eating a lunch that delicious (and all vegan!): a creamy vegetable soup, quinoa, tomato, avocado, sautéed vegetables, mango juice, and wine and beer. We were the only ones here, and looking at the car reminded me of a Jeep commercial or something – a white car on a beautiful shore with blue water and mountains in every direction.Lagoon 2 lunch 1
  • Piedras rojas (red rocks) – again, very blue water with very red rocks! The rocks are more than 85% ferrous oxide. Piedras rojas

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    I did not get the jumping gene.

  • Lagunas Altiplánicas: Lagunas Miscanti & Miñiques (4200 m/13,780 ft) – we saw one flamingo here (the rest are all migrating to Canada…that’s really far/sounds familiar to what some Americans are doing). At this stop, we had a snack with a view, and drank wine as well. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel the wine like I felt the pisco sour, even at this high of an altitude.

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  • Laguna Chaxa – we watched the sunset here! It’s the national reserve for flamingos. The cordillera (mountain range) was absolutely spectacular.

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Here are some of the things we learned:

  • Ayllu de Toconau – this is the highest vineyard in the world, at 2400 meters / 7800 feet! The wine is produced right there in the Atacama.
  • We saw many plants as we drove and ascended in altitude that are indications of the altitude – for example, one called Tolar that only grows below 4000 meters/13,100 feet and then it starts to disappear, and another Coiron that only grows above 3900 meters/12,800 feet (photo below of coiron and a vicuña – more notes on them later!).

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Monday, April 3 – final day!

We went on our last tour to the Valle del Arcoíris (Rainbow Valley). Our first stop was at a place called Hierbas Buenas (Good Herbs) with lots of petroglyphs (rock drawings). There were lots of petroglyphs of animals, especially llamas and guanacos (description below). We also saw some cool plants! One is called cojín de la suegra (cushion of the mother-in-law), which is very easy to break apart and get caught in the hair of passing animals. People used it to treat a cold or fever because it has lots of Vitamin C. We actually tried it! It was similar to a kiwi except wayyyy more bitter/sour. The next entertaining plant is called Planta Pingo Pingo, which was known as the Viagra of this region. Our tour guide emphasized that you MUST ask your doctor before consuming this plant.

Then we went to the actual Valle del Arcoíris, where we saw rocks from three different periods in one place, which you can tell because they’re three different colorsRed from the oxidation of iron, gray from ashes of the volcano, white/yellow from sulfur and calcium, the darkest green is from chlorine, lighter greens have other minerals, and some more white is salt and gypsum. This area used to be an ocean in the past, so there’s lots of salt on the surface of the ground – we tasted it! If anything describes Chile, it’s mountains and salt – usually not salt like this, but about the same amount of salt in the food (aka a LOT).

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  • IMG_9660Guanaco vs. Vicuña vs. Llama vs. Alpaca
    • Guanacos (wild) – one color, in groups up to 50, very curious, don’t have great hair to make scarves, etc.
    • Vicuñas (wild – can’t be domesticated) – round back
      • If they lose their pack, they accept their inevitable death and walk until they die, without eating or drinking. In a pack of vicuñas, there is one male and many females. If another male comes, the two males fight, and sometimes one will cut off the testicles of the other! That’s pretty intense.
      • It’s illegal to sell vicuña wool, pero in the black market in Bolivia, it sells for about 1000 euros/kg.
    • Llamas (domesticated) – many colors, have more genes from guanacos (photo below).
    • Alpacas (domesticated) – more genes from vicuña, so their wool is much better for making clothing. 

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GENERAL NOTES ABOUT THE ATACAMA DESERT

  • The Atacama Desert is full of volcanoes, especially because Chile is in the Ring of Fire.
  • We brought all of our layers (and our real coats, which I had only worn once before in Chile, in October) because the desert can be very cold at night, and we’re very glad we did! During the day it was pretty warm but often windy, and at night it was pretty chilly outside. The coldest we were was during our early morning geyser tour – 4:30-9am was very cold!
  • The majority of people on our tours were from Brazil and Germany, with a handful of others from Argentina and Chile. We didn’t meet anyone from the United States.
  • For the altitude, we had leftover altitude medication from when we went to Machu Picchu (and the altitude there – 8000-11,000 feet – now seems like nothing in comparison to in the Atacama), so we took that twice a day. Otherwise we had no problems! But except for our day biking, we weren’t doing much exercise/hiking here – we did plenty of walking, but not much climbing on foot.

A few Santiago notes: we’re still loving it and taking advantage of every day, since we’ll be home in a month! I’m very content and happy with my job as a teacher and my students, my friends, my salsa/bachata classes, my public health meetings, my Chilean family, and going out to 1-2 salsotecas every week! I’m exhausted right now because we’ve been going out to salsotecas/parties/bars on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, and I’m always out until 11 or 11:30 on weeknights because of salsa/bachata classes and Spanglish Party, so it’s hard to get enough sleep sometimes. But all is well! More updates to come on the next post, which is probably the last before we leave! Besos y abrazos!!

A weekend trip to Mendoza, Argentina, and fall in Santiago! (baby it’s “cold” outside)

Aaaaaand it’s already the end of March. El tiempo pasó volando (the time has flown)!

  • It just became spring for most of you but is officially fall here! I can wear my sweatpants and long-sleeve fleece to bed again! The mornings and evenings are nice and cool, usually in the 60s – this past Friday was in the 60s all day and everyone was in big coats and I was just LOVING it. Friday was unusually “cold”, but usually it’s still pretty warm in the middle of the day (in the 80s), yet people are still walking around in jeans and sweaters while I’m on the crowded metro in a skirt and tank top, sweating profusely.
  • Schools and universities all started again a few weeks ago, most on what is called “Super Lunes” (Monday, March 6), and it’s called that because it’s one of the busiest days in the city (and the metro definitely showed it). Toddler Leo started “el jardín”, which is preschool! It was super cute to see him leave on his first day with a tiny little backpack. Honestly, I don’t see him much during the week because he leaves at 8:30 (when I’m still sleeping), and comes back around 4:30, when I’m out, and goes to bed before I return home around 11:30pm. I think it’s great that he’s starting preschool for many reasons, but especially because he’s used to playing by himself in the house and only being around adults, so now he’s finally around other kids his age. He’ll have to learn how to play with multiple kids at once, how to communicate with them, and how to share! These are things my parents didn’t have to worry about as much before Jordin and I started preschool because we always had each other. And we’re good at sharing! I always give him all the food on my plate that I don’t want – he’s my personal compost bin.
  • March 8th was International Women’s Day all over the world, and the march in Santiago was great. There were flags, signs, people of all ages, and people playing musical instruments throughout the march. I didn’t participate because I was in between teaching one class and my salsa/bachata classes, but I’m very glad I got to see part of it and be there to feel that energy.

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“Don’t tell me ‘Happy [women’s] day’, get up and fight with me!” 

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  • I’m still having a blast in my salsa and bachata classes – I definitely prefer salsa to bachata because it’s much faster and I’m always moving, but I enjoy both. I know Jordin has said the exact same, but these classes are my favorite part of the week (it’s almost like we’re TWINS with very similar interests…whoa) – I live for my Monday and Wednesday nights! At the end of each class, the teachers leave a few minutes for “baile social” (social dance), and you can do whatever you want. Because the classes are focused on particular steps, baile social is more challenging because no one is calling out the steps you’re about to do – you just go! In salsa, the woman follows the man’s steps, so it’s ideal to dance with someone who knows what he’s doing. This weekend, I finally went to a salsoteca for the first time (I did go when we first arrived in Chile, but went for salsa classes, not baile social, before we found the wayyyyy better classes that we go to now) and it was AWESOME. We arrived at 10:30pm, coming late from a vegan food tasting (more on that later) and thinking that we would miss the classes they were offering at 9 and 10pm before the baile social. Well, we were the FIRST ONES THERE. We stayed until about 3am, and I loved getting to dance with a variety of different guys throughout the night – it’s a great learning experience, and a way to apply what I’ve learned in two months of classes. Jordin has been going to salsotecas for a few weeks, but I’m hoping we can go at least once a week until we leave – it is a BLAST and a half. 

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  • In my last post, I said that February was my favorite month here so far, and March has been equally great. Everyone keeps saying “queda poco!” (“not much [time] left”) each time we say that we’re leaving in May, and that feeling is really starting to kick in for both Jordin and me. In these last few months, we’ve had a much more active social life because we’re closer with more friends, and are meeting friends of friends who are very generous in inviting us to parties and such. And especially now that I want to go to a salsoteca every weekend as well as hang out with different groups of friends, my time here is starting to feel very short. Jordin and I both agree that staying about a year more would be ideal for our Spanish, friendships, and having enough time to travel throughout Chile. It will be extremely bittersweet to leave in May, but we’re taking advantage of everything we can until then.
  • Typical difficulties in English for my students:
    • Prepositions: in/at/on. In Spanish, the word “en” means ALL of these things, so they often have trouble determining which one is correct in which context.
    • English is FULL of “phrasal verbs” – 2-3 words that have one meaning when used together, but usually a different meaning when used separately. Here are some examples (these make me feel really bad about learning English because this must be HARD):
      • Break:
        • Break down
        • Break in
        • Break into
        • Break up
        • Break out in
        • Break dance
      • Get
        • Get across
        • Get along
        • Get around
        • Get away
        • Get away with
        • Get back
        • Get back at
        • Get back into
        • Get on
        • Get over
        • Get around to
        • Get up
    • Sounds with which native Spanish-speakers have trouble: th, sh, ch
      • “Hair” – the letter a in Spanish just sounds like “ahhh”, as the language is phonetic, so this “air” sound is really difficult. When some of my students say it, it sometimes sounds a little like a pirate saying “har harrrrr”.
      • The letter i in Spanish sounds like our letter e (“eeeee”), so Spanish-speakers often pronounce the following words the same, which sometimes can be a problem:
        • Sheet vs. Shit
        • Beach vs. bitch
        • Sneakers vs. Snickers
        • Sheep vs. Cheap – the difference between these pronunciations is VERY difficult for native Spanish-speakers…the words sound exactly the same to them. Say these two words aloud right now and try to describe the difference – it’s a challenge!
  • I have two young English students – one is 6 and the other is 14. The 14-year-old just started 9th grade and told me all about her schedule in school, which made my jaw drop. First of all, she’s taking biology, chemistry, AND physics this year, while I took one science each year of high school. Second of all, it seems that most high schools here (called “colegio”) operate in similar ways, in that the students take all of their classes in the same classroom with same students all day long, and it’s the teachers that revolve in and out of the classrooms. My student said she has been with the same students since kindergarten, so everyone knows each other very well. School runs from 8am-3:30pm, with two 15-minute breaks throughout the day, before a 45-minute lunch at 2pm. Lunch is at TWO O’CLOCK after they’ve already been there for six hours! In my high school, there were three lunch slots, the earliest of which was 10:30am, and the latest was 11:40am. No wonder these kids are exhausted after school – they’ve been sitting in the same chair in the same room for hours upon hours without moving, they don’t get to eat until 2, and they take three sciences. At least they start at 8am instead of 7:30 like my high school (which will hopefully change in a few years, thanks to the hard work of my mother).
  • I recently met with a professor at Universidad Católica (one of the best universities here, as well as in all of Latin America), who connected me with some people who study and work in public health at the Universidad de Chile (another big university) in the Instituto de Nutrición y Tecnología de los Alimentos (Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology). Thanks to this connection, I will be attending the weekly meetings/lectures through the Centro de Prevención de Obesidad y Enfermedades Crónicas (Center for Prevention of Obesity and Chronic Illnesses) to learn more about various issues in public health in Chile, and specifically in nutrition! I’m unbelievably excited about this, just to learn more about my professional and personal passion – public health – in a country that I love, and in a more formal setting. The first meeting was yesterday! The talk didn’t really involve nutrition, but more how environmental health/lifestyle factors affect disease; the title of the talk was: “Deregulations of miRNome”. Revealing the mechanisms of testicular damage induced by the exposure to endocrine disruptors mixtures. As you can see just by the title, it was very focused on scientific data, specifically biological concepts like endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDC), mRNA, etc. There were about 15 people in attendance, and though the talk was entirely in Spanish, the slides of the presentation were in English. I actually really liked this because it helped me visually understand the complex biological information that the presenter was discussing, and I got to listen in Spanish and make the connections with the vocabulary. Though this talk wasn’t focused on my main interests, it’s nice to be in an academic setting again. While I don’t miss my college workload, I do miss the university setting (and I do miss working in Wesleyan’s libraries), so I’m so happy to be getting this experience here.

Mendoza, Argentina!

Two weeks ago, Jordin and I went to Mendoza, Argentina, for the weekend! Mendoza is on the west side of the country, right next to the Andes, and is probably most well-known for its wine – I believe it’s the largest wine-producing region in all of Latin America. Additionally, another big industry is olive oil – more on that below! Jordin and I flew to Mendoza on a Thursday evening – it was a 35-minute flight, literally just going up and over the Andes to get there, and while the first 20 minutes were easy, there was an unbelievable amount of turbulence for the last 15. Apparently the wind direction is perpendicular to the mountains in some way, and this creates significant vertical movement of the airplane (we were going more up and down than side to side). Needless to say, Jordin and I were extremely relieved when we landed safely in Mendoza, as was every other person on the plane. We stayed in a hostel that was walking distance from everything in the main part of town, and everyone there was very friendly and welcoming.

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On Friday, we took a bike tour to two different vineyards! This was an awesome way to get to know the region more, as well as taste some of the best wines in the world. The tour company had a taxi pick us up at our hostel and drive us a few miles outside of the city to the place where we would begin the tour. It was just the two of us with one guide from the company, which was nice, and definitely much easier in terms of biking to each vineyard. We biked about 40 minutes to the first vineyard, Viña Carmelo Patti, which was very small, artisanal, and had a family-feel. We didn’t actually go into the vineyard, but spent the whole time in a building with the owner, and a few other people who came for the tasting. He gave us many general tips about wine:

  • When you bring the wine home, take off the metal wrapping and look at the cork – if the cork looks intact and there’s enough space between it and the wine, it’s good and you can keep it. If the cork has wine in it, it means that air can get into the bottle and the wine won’t keep for a long time, so you should go back and exchange it. He said that if you would do that for a shirt with a hole in it, why not for wine?wine opener.jpg
  • The best way to open a bottle of wine is not by using a corkscrew, but by using this opener, which I am pleased to say that I’ve used many times because my dad has used one for years! This doesn’t puncture the cork, so there’s no risk of any part of the cork falling into the bottle.

At this first vineyard, we tried 3 types of wine: Malbec (famous in Argentina), Cabernet, and a blend called Gran Assemblage. All I can really say is that they were all red and they were all good.

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We then biked another 35 minutes or so to the second vineyard, Viña Nieto Senetiner, which could not have been more different from the first. This vineyard was much bigger, looked like a villa with Spanish-style buildings and fountains, and there were grapes as far as the eye could see – aka until the beautiful, snow-capped Andes mountains! We were put in a tour group with about 12 other people who had just come from two other vineyards. One woman, probably in her 50s, came up to Jordin and me with her husband and said, “Estamos BORRACHOS” (“WE’RE SO DRUNK”) – they had tried five wines at each of the two previous vineyards, and apparently those glasses were generously poured. She continued to entertain us for the entire tour. We went on a little tour of the vineyard and saw hundreds of barrels of wine as well as fresh grapes right from the plant.

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During the tasting (“degustación”), we tried three types of wine: Chardonay, Bonarda, and Malbec. Our tour guide explained that there are three things to do in the process of wine tasting: look at the color, smell it, and then taste it in two sips – the first is to accustom your tongue, and the second is to actually taste the flavor. I also enjoyed all of these wines (one white, two reds), but couldn’t really tell you much more about them. However, here they are in case you want to buy them in the states.

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We biked back to where the tour started – if you know Jordin and me, you know that we’re very much lightweights in terms of holding our liquor. We were served only a few sips of each wine, but after trying six of them, these lightweights could FEEL IT. Biking could have been very dangerous if we were as drunk as that woman, but thankfully we held it together and no one fell.

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After arriving back at the bike place, we went directly to Pasrai, an “olivícola” where they produce olive oil! The facility also produces a variety of dried fruits after olive season is over, and that is where the name Pasrai comes from – “pasa” means raisin in Spanish, so they created of combination of “Pas” for pasa and “Rai” for raisin. The facility produces 80,000 liters (21,000 gallons) of extra virgin olive oil every year. Here is a quick rundown of how they make the olive oil:

  1. Crush the olives within 48 hours of harvesting them in a big machine, including the pits, because it’s very difficult to remove the pits and save the rest of the olive.
  2. Put the olives in a colander and spin them to try and separate some of the liquid from the solid.
  3. Put the olive paste in some sort of tube to remove the liquid. The paste is then useless for further production of this olive oil, so it is then sold to other places who use it to produce lesser-quality olive oil.
  4. There are two parts of the next step: the IMG_8442liquid is now separated into water and oil (see photo), but the oil is extremely thick and there are pieces of the skin in it. Some people like to buy this oil, but it’s extremely strong. Most of the oil then goes through a 14-tank system – in each tank, the liquid goes in through the bottom and leaves through the top, and after 14 tanks, the oil is left in the last tanks and the water is left in the first ones. They are now separate!
  5. The thick olive oil, now separated from the water, goes through a cellulose strainer, and after this process, you have extra virgin olive oil like you would see in the store!

The facility produces olive oil with many different flavors – regular, garlic, ají/picante (hot pepper), basil, oregano, and lemon. Anyone can flavor their own olive oil, but it must be done through dehydrated spices, NOT fresh ones. This is because fresh spices contain water, which can oxidize the oil and make it go bad (ask chemist Jordin for more details). We tried all of these flavors and enjoyed them all! I’ve never tried flavored olive oil before, but Jordin is already excited to try to flavor his own when we get back home.

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That evening we walked to Plaza Independencia, the biggest and main plaza in Mendoza (there are lots of plazas/parks), because there was an artisanal fair there from 4-11pm. We arrived at 5:30 and it was basically empty. We learned that siesta (nap) time in Mendoza is from 1 or 2pm until 5, and everything is completely closed.

On Saturday morning, we walked to a hill called “Cerro de la Gloria”, which we heard had a beautiful view of the city. The walk there from our hostel was about 40 minutes, and the climb to the top of the hill was 10 minutes…the view was not what we were expecting, but it was a beautiful day and we could see mountains in all directions.

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For lunch, we went to an awesome vegan restaurant, which surprisingly is not the only vegan restaurant in Mendoza (I say surprisingly because everyone told us about the meat in Mendoza). It was a buffet, pay-by-weight place that’s only open three hours a day, so it gets pretty crowded and all the food goes very fast. I took a video on snapchat and one of my Chilean friends responded by saying he didn’t know that much vegan food existed (#JustVeganThings). After lunch, we went on a free walking tour of Mendoza and learned a lot!:

  • An earthquake in 1861 destroyed almost everything in the town.
  • There’s a statue in Plaza España that shows two women (see photo below)- on the left is a women with a book who represents Spain, and appears more mature. On the right is a younger-looking woman (supposed to be less mature), almost naked, and holding grapes, which apparently represent being more of a scavenger and using the natural resources – she represents Argentina. Additionally, the woman Spain is gripping the arm of the woman Argentina, showing that she is very dominant, as opposed to a mother figure. These statues are somewhat of an insult to Argentina because she’s being depicted as immature and completely reliant on Spain, while the Argentinians did not feel that way.

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  • There aren’t any “pure” native/indigenous people in Argentina because they all were exported to other countries as slaves by the Spanish, or killed. Anyone who wasn’t European was considered barbarian and was exterminated.
  • Argentina became independent from Spain in 1816, but will always have a cultural relationship with Spain. Argentina has always looked to Spain for help, as opposed to the rest of South America.
  • The majority of the architecture in Mendoza is nothing special – pretty plain, brutalist buildings, but the city planners prioritized safety over appearance and built everything to be able to withstand earthquakes. The attractive theme of Mendoza is the natural element – there are many plazas and tons of beautiful tall trees. It’s a sort of microclimate, with pine trees growing next to palm trees. It’s always windy, but it’s a dry wind. The wet wind comes from the Pacific, goes through Chile and loses its water by snowing in the Andes, so when it arrives Mendoza it’s dry. This is why Mendoza is a desert-like climate.
  • All of the streets have canals on both sides, which were the main form of irrigation.
  • Government buildings are scattered throughout the city, including in green areas (with plazas), and this was planned for the principle of health and to avoid the spread of disease among government officials.
  • Currently, all museums are closed permanently in Mendoza (!!!). There is a lot of budget cutting, and the government basically said that art doesn’t matter (hmm, this sounds familiar). There are strikes all over the country by teachers who want higher wages, as the government is trying to privatize many universities.
  • All of the provinces in Argentina have a designated meeting place for every Thursday at 11pm for the silent walking of mothers and grandmothers of children who disappeared during the military regime that started in the 1970s. 30,000 people disappeared, and movement started in the 1970s by women who were pushing for information on what happened to their children. I learned about this when I lived in Buenos Aires two years ago as well.
  • We finished the tour on the roof of a building that used to be the tallest in the city (at 10 stories high), with a beautiful view!

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On Sunday at 9am, we took a bus back to Santiago! Because we were going for only a few days, we didn’t want to take the bus both ways because of how long the journey is, but we knew we wanted to take it one of the ways to have the opportunity to drive through the Andes Mountains. If you know me, you know I don’t like to sit for a long time, but I absolutely loved this drive. It took 7 hours to arrive in Santiago – six hours driving, and one hour at the Argentina-Chile border. That one hour at the border felt like nothing because we had heard from other people who waited at the border between 2-6 hours. This drive through the mountains was unlike anything I’ve ever seen or done before – we saw mountains of all colors: green and grassy mountains that ascended really fast (like we saw in the Sacred Valley in Peru), red like in New Mexico, and gray with snow like those in Glacier National Park and in Torres del Paine (Patagonia). Additionally, the drive wasn’t steep, as I expected it to be – most of the roads were pretty flat and very well paved, with many other cars and busses on them throughout the day. Our bus driver drove slowly (and it was a double-decker bus, so that was important), and there was only one section with a bunch of hairpin-like curves, which we went around veryyyyyyyy slowly. The views were incredible the entire time. I’m so glad that we got the views from both the plane and the bus: here is a small compilation of the types of mountains we saw!

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The journey begins!

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Argentina-Chile border!

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Back to Santiago! A few smaller updates:

  • During one meal at home, Aly (host mom) said that Chile is the only country in Latin America that doesn’t celebrate the traditions, food, etc. of its native people (Mapuche), as do other countries in Latin America, such as Peru and the Incas.
  • Jordin and I are continually infuriated by the waste here in Santiago. First, the water bottles – everyone buys bottled water, both for their houses and on the go (it’s always sold on the street and in the metro). I have rarely seen people with a reusable bottle, and when I do, they’re usually foreigners (everyone looks surprised when they see mine). Also, water fountains don’t exist – I described them to Chilean a friend recently and he had no idea what I was talking about. Second, the number of plastic bags that people use at the supermarket is unreal. Jordin and I always just use a drawstring/tote bag if we have to get something, but everyone else uses new plastic bags each time. I know this also is very common in the United States, but I constantly see people with ONE SMALL THING in a plastic bag, even if they have other bags.
  • This weekend, Jordin and I went to a vegan/vegetarian food tasting (for free!) and tried about 10 different delicious dishes, one of which was HUMMUS so Jordin and I were in heaven. The best part was that the chef made various cultural dishes, from green Thai curry to Indian dal, and each dish was full of spices. Chilean food isn’t known for using spices (besides salt and merken, the smoky dried hot pepper), and I’ve missed spices since the day I arrived. The chef said that for Chileans, using 5-6 spices would be WAY too much – in my experience here, I can attest to that. So I very much enjoyed this food tasting. However, Jordin and I went straight from there to meet friends at the salsoteca, and as we were leaving we realized that the chef was going to give us a container of hummus to go! Devastatingly, we couldn’t take it because we wouldn’t be returning home until the wee hours of the morning. Once we were in the elevator, Jordin said, “WE JUST LOST FREE HUMMUS!!!” A sad truth for the Metz twins.
  • I visited a hospital recently (not for me) and was surprised at the conditions there – the bathrooms were pretty dirty, and one of them had soap outside the bathroom, so for people who aren’t germ-conscious like us, they may not wash their hands at all. One of my goals is to learn more about the health system here before I leave.
  • Here is the most entertaining part of this post, and the best thing you’ll see after watching the video of Paul Ryan saying that we’re so terribly unlucky to be “living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future”. Remember in my post about Patagonia and Machu Picchu, I mentioned that on our hike up Wayna Picchu (the huge mountain in the back of all classic Machu Picchu photos), we saw a man dressed in long pants, a button-down shirt, a vest, and a tie dancing on the edge of the mountain? As a recap, he creates videos of himself dancing in travel destinations and posts them on his website and youtube channel. He calls himself the Dancing Accountant (though he told us he’s not actually an accountant, and has no formal dance training). Well, he finally posted the video of him at Machu Picchu, and it’s a compilation of his travels around Latin America. I highly recommend giving it at watch – the best part is, you can hear my voice at the very end saying, “That was incredible”! #Famous 
    • (Click on that link to watch it or CLICK ON THIS ONE if you’re confused about where that one is!)

This weekend, Jordin and I are headed on our last trip within Chile to San Pedro de Atacama, aka the Atacama Desert in the very north of Chile, which is one of the driest places on earth! We’re incredibly excited – keep a look out for some instagram updates! @metziculous

Thank you for making it to the bottom! If you have any comments, advice, or questions, please email/Facebook message me! We only have about seven weeks left (!) and want to make the most out of them, so if you have any suggestions for more things to inquire/learn about, to do, or people to meet, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Besos y abrazos!!

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Weekend traveling in Chile: Valparaíso, Viña del Mar, and La Serena!

Happy March everyone! I know I say this each post, but time is absolutely flying and I can’t believe Jordin and I have been in Chile for five months already. Also, PLEASE CLICK THE TITLE OF THIS POST (or this link) to view the blog on the website instead of in your email – the photo quality is better, and if I find any spelling mistakes I can correct them and they’ll update for everyone who hasn’t read it yet :) Thanks!

The past month has been wonderfully busy. In general, February has been my favorite month so far – my life here just feels more settled. Everything has been going well with my students, I really love the friends I’ve made, and I’m very accustomed to my life here. Before delving into the descriptions of our travels this month (just two weekends), here are a few short updates:

  • Valentine’s Day = Día de San Valentín! It’s definitely not as commercial in Chile as in the U.S., because I saw very little in pharmacies or supermarkets, but I saw a ridiculous number of flowers and balloons on the day itself. The streetside flower stands had incredibly long lines, and I saw many men walking around with huge red balloons that said “Te amo para siempre” (I love you forever). However, I received many text messages from friends here that said “Feliz día de la amistad!” (“Happy Friendship Day), which I loved, because this day should be about all types of love, not just romantic. Because Valentine’s Day was on a Tuesday, that night we went to Spanglish Party, and the bar was completely decked out in Valentine’s decorations. At the beginning, everyone received three stickers that they could give to people they liked throughout the night, and the person who received the most stickers at the end would win something. While I absolutely love Spanglish Party, sometimes I feel like I’m trapped in a middle school dance or at someone’s bat/bar mitzvah party, but with a bunch of people around age 30.
  • I recently went to the top floor of the Costanera Center, which is the one skyscraper in Santiago that also happens to be the tallest building in Latin America! It’s 62 stories and almost 1,000 feet tall. From the top, you get a 360º view of the city (through a window, so the photos still have the glare), and I went as the sun was setting so got the entire view. It was incredible! img_0076

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  • Garden updates! Sadly, the peach tree has stopped producing fruit, but the almond tree and the grapevine are still going. And just recently the avocado tree has starting blooming – that’s right, I HAVE AN AVOCADO TREE. However, these avocados are different than regular/supermarket avocados – the skin is very thin, and our family actually doesn’t peel them at all. They bite into them like an apple! While this is still a strange phenomenon to me because I’m not used to it, these avocados are delicious (and tan pequeño!). New fruits tried recently (not from the garden):
    • Membrillo – look like apples, but are kind of dry and taste like a bitter Granny Smith apple. Not a fan.
    • Tuna – in both the melon and kiwi family and tastes like a mix of both, but it has a ton of seeds that some people don’t like. I think it’s okay but I don’t love it.
    • Noni – similar taste to a cucumber. Not a fan. (Note: I eat every single other fruit except bananas, so it’s interesting to find fruits that I don’t like here! But I still love trying new foods – it’s exciting every time!)
  • I recently went hiking in Santiago for the first time! I’m finally getting some use out of my hiking boots after wearing them for two weeks straight in Patagonia and Peru. It was only a 4-mile trail that took a few hours, but it felt like nothing to me, and I think that’s because after the intense hiking we did in Patagonia, everything else seems inconsequential. In the photo below you can see the Costanera Center in the background!

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  • I’ve been walking a lot, as usual, especially in between my classes. I’ve been walking some or all of the distance between one of my classes in the northeast of the city to the center for Spanglish or the salsa/bachata classes. This walk is about an hour and a half, which gives me the opportunity to explore a part of the city in which I don’t usually spend time, and I avoid paying for an overly-crowded metro filled with people sweating on their way home from work.
  • Speaking of crowded metros – it’s back-to-school time in Santiago! Because I live in the southern hemisphere, the calendar is opposite of the United States in terms of seasons and the school year. Schools and universities are all starting up again this week (if they haven’t already started), and everyone who was on vacation in February (the equivalent of August in my typical summer) is back in the city, so the metro is as crowded as ever. In February, people described the metro as “empty”, even though it was still crowded and smelly during rush hour. But that definition of crowded is nothing like it is during the rest of the year. 
  • Jordin and I have hung out with Kimberley, the teacher of our October TEFL course, many times in the past few months. We all get along really well, and she’s just so much fun to be around. She always says that whenever we come over she can’t even get a word in because we talk so much, but I think that’s because we speak in English, so I can express and describe significantly more than I can in Spanish. And I always want to fill her in on everything going on in our lives, especially around teaching because we started our Chilean experience and jobs as teachers with her. She taught the TEFL course again in February; last week was the final week of the course, and Jordin and I came in to “lead” the Professional Development Session, which was talking to the nine students about our experiences living in Chile, finding students, and teaching classes after we took the course. We talked with them for an hour and a half, and it was so much fun. I love talking to people about my experiences in general, but especially here in Chile, and it felt good to know that even though finding and keeping students took some time (especially for Jordin), we’re both in great places now and we love what we do. We talked with the students about our methods for finding students, what we do with students of various English levels, the frustrations that sometimes come with scheduling classes, the activities in which we’re involved in Santiago, and how we’ve applied what we learned in the course to our teaching now, among other things. While Jordin and I were at the institute, we talked with an English teacher there whom we hadn’t seen since we finished the course at the end of October, and he said, “How was your summer?” I was like…”Wait an entire summer has passed since we’ve been here??” That question really made me think about the time we’ve been here. And of course the summer hasn’t passed…we’re still getting plenty of heat waves (this last week especially). During the TEFL course, each new teacher is required to teach six one-hour classes, which are observed by the teacher (Kimberley). But the classes require real students, or people who are willing to come for a free English class, knowing that the teachers are new and in training. I told two of my private beginner students about these classes, and one of them (let’s call her Maria) went to every single beginner class that was offered. When I started with Maria, she was an absolute beginner and knew next to nothing in English. But the new teachers in the course said she really knew what she was doing in the classes, and when she wasn’t sure, she took her time to think about it and usually figured it out! In my private classes with Maria, I sometimes give her the Spanish translation of a word or phrase, but these more formal classes are 100% in English. Hearing this feedback from the new teachers, as well as Kimberley, made me so proud of Maria and how much she has learned over the past four months. I also described to the new teachers that Maria is somewhat of an anomaly – we always have 3 classes a week and she has never once cancelled, her schedule is flexible and we can change the class time if I need to, she always does her homework, and she always responds to my texts within a reasonable amount of time – none of these characteristics are typically Chilean by any means! I’m very lucky to be teaching her, for many different reasons, one of which includes that she has a tiny fluffy dog that sits on my lap every class.
  • Catcalling (piropo) – throughout my five months here, I’ve written about receiving more than my share of catcalls (though no one deserves any “share”) and street harassment. While this hasn’t subsided by any means, every time I leave my house, I wonder about what type of piropo I will receive, and I’ve also been considering all the thoughts running through my head that a man (e.g. Jordin) doesn’t need to think about. Here are some of the things that I do that Jordin does not simply because he’s a man:
    • Walk on the side of street moving with traffic to attract less attention
    • Try to avoid one-way streets where I’d have to walk against traffic, because more people in cars will look at me when I’m facing them (I live on a block in between two one-way streets)
    • Walk on the opposite side of the street/as far away from construction sites as possible, and walk on the opposite side of the street as pairs/groups of men
    • Hold my tote bag (with my whiteboard, markers, and other small things) on the side facing the street/cars/people/eyes, to cover my body as much as possible.
    • Last notes: Aly (host mom) told us that there is some new law which states that men are no longer allowed to shout things at women on the street. I’m not sure if it’s true, but if it is, it’s not helping. A few weeks ago, I was running in my neighborhood and was about to finish, near a very busy street a few blocks from my house. I was approaching a construction site (there are new apartments going up on almost every corner, so there’s no way to escape these sites), but unfortunately I couldn’t cross the street because I needed to be on my side in order to cross the busy road ahead. I noticed that there were 5-7 men standing outside the site on the sidewalk and immediately dreaded what types of looks and shouts were coming. But surprisingly, I didn’t receive any comments – I had slowed down to a slow jog since I was running close to them, and suddenly when I turned around to look, I realized two of the men were running after me (not quite chasing me, but more like running alongside me). My heart rate immediately jumped and motivated me to keep running toward the stoplight, and while I wasn’t scared that they would do something to me, obviously I was extremely startled and appalled that it happened. I don’t know what kind of person thinks that it’s okay to ever do something like that, except maybe people like the President of the United States and his friends, but it was abhorrent to me and I’ll never forget it.
  • Salsa & Bachata classes – I still absolutely love the dance classes I go to twice a week. I’ve been going for about a month now, and I moved to level Intermediate in Salsa last week and LOVE it. There’s a big jump between the Beginner and Intermediate classes – in the Beginner classes, the teacher taught all the basic steps, which is good for people who are just starting, don’t have much dance experience, and/or aren’t great dancers. But only a few classes in, I was getting bored during those classes and wasn’t being challenged. In Intermediate, we start dancing various steps the moment the class starts, so you’re dancing vigorously the entire hour. While the first class was extremely difficult because there were so many steps I hadn’t learned yet and weren’t taught during that class, I’m already having so much more fun than before. This class is challenging but it’s a blast – and the teacher is an incredible dancer and teacher, and I only wish I had her moves! I’m going to work on getting more videos of us dancing…stay tuned!
  • Here is a link that one of my Chilean friends posted on Facebook a few weeks ago about bread in Chile (so obviously this is relevant). It’s a gif that says: “When your mom senses that you left the house”, she shouts, “BUY BREAD!” This is one of the most Chilean things I’ve ever seen – There’s always so much bread in our house at any given time, but if there isn’t, or there’s fewer than 5 sandwich breads, there’s instant panic and someone must leave to buy bread immediately. Here’s the gif!

WEEKEND TRIP #1: Valparaíso and Viña del Mar!

Two weeks ago, Jordin and I went to Valparaíso (Valpo) and Viña del Mar (Viña) with four of our good Chilean friends. The cities are about 70 miles northwest of Santiago (1.5 hours by bus), and are extremely popular beach destinations, especially during the summer. We only spent one day in each city, so it wasn’t a lot, but still enough time to see some beautiful views and spend a nice weekend with friends.

VALPARAISO – Valpo is the second largest metropolitan area in all of Chile, and is a major seaport. It is incredibly hilly (there are 42 hills within the city), and is filled with murals and art and color! We arrived by bus in the morning, and after dropping our backpacks at the hostel, we wandered around our neighborhood and then took a free, four-hour walking tour. Before Jordin and I moved to Chile, I had thought that I’d want to live in Valpo much more than in Santiago after hearing about other people’s experiences there (Wesleyan students typically study abroad in Valpo, while Tufts students go to Santiago). But after visiting, I know that I prefer Santiago and I’m very happy that I live there. Valpo is a very unique city, with almost every wall covered in murals and graffiti and all sorts of phrases, but it has a very different vibe than Santiago, and sadly, has more poverty and more crime. What I do know is that if I lived in Valpo, I would be in much better shape because I’d have to walk the hills all the time (while Santiago is completely flat). 

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Famous mural in Valpo!

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Piano steps!

VIÑA DEL MAR – On Sunday, we took a bus to Viña del Mar (literally means “vineyard by the sea”), a neighboring city of Valparaíso. While Valpo feels more like a city with a port, Viña feels like an upscale beach town, with lots of apartments, malls, hotels, and various entertainment venues. The day after we were there was the first day of the Festival de Viña del Mar, which is a week-long event with lots of live music and celebrities, and it’s one of the most popular yearly events in the entire country. We spent our day in Viña wandering around to various food fairs/markets that we found, aka my favorite thing to do. We all bought a few things and had a little picnic, with empanadas, whole wheat bread, and vegan almond cheese! Aka lots of bread, but we were there with Chileans, so what more can you expect? We walked to see the beaches, one of which was absolutely packed with people, and saw this beautiful flower clock, which is a big tourist landmark in the city.

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I found whole wheat bread and was SO HAPPY. Mom, I miss your homemade bread more than words can describe.

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Friends in Valpo & Viña! Cristían, me, Ale, Valentina, Jordin, and Paulina

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David and Hannah!!

Last week, our good family friends David and his daughter Hannah came to visit us for six days! Half of one of their two suitcases was loaded with peanut butter and probably an entire shelf of nuts from Trader Joe’s just for us, as all nuts besides peanuts are extremely expensive here. The quantity was overwhelming, but I’m pretty confident that they’ll be gone by the time we leave (especially because I have Jordin). Additionally, they brought me a full envelope of KenKens sent by my mom, who diligently collects them from the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday NY Times and saves them for me. What could be better than good friends, nuts, and KenKens arriving in Chile? Nothing, except if my cats could be here too.

We spent the majority of the six days on our feet and walking around (I think we walked 30-40 miles with them over six days), introducing them to Chilean food and drink, and taking pictures (David put a new memory card in his phone just for this trip). As an architect and just an incredibly observant person, David pointed out so many things that I’ve never seen before, even though I’ve lived here for five months and am familiar with each part of the city we explored. This included architectural styles of buildings, various designs and decorations, and some really weird things, like a stone gargoyle (or something similar) sitting at the top of an apartment building.

We spent last Thursday and Friday with David and Hannah in Santiago. On Thursday, we took them to an awesome vegan restaurant that my family went to when they were here in December, and then spent the rest of the day walking around Santiago Centro, where they were staying. This included the Plaza de Armas (the “main square” of Santiago, or at least one of the oldest areas of the city) and La Moneda (the government center). We bought some fruit from a stand on the side of the road and I introduced them to the “tuna”, which is a cactus fruit that tastes like a mix of honeydew and kiwi. While it sounds great, there are a ton of seeds inside (that you’re supposed to eat/they’re pretty impossible to remove because there are so many), which changes the texture a lot. I like this fruit but I don’t love it. But I LOVE getting to try new fruits and vegetables every few weeks here! David and Hannah also tried mote con huesillo, which is a really popular Chilean drink in the summer, made with mote (a grain that reminds me of barley or farro, but Wikipedia describes it as “cooked husked wheat”), a sweet juice made from dried peaches (and sugar, of course – this is Chile), and some dried peaches on top. I wasn’t a huge fan of this the first time I tried it a few months ago, but I didn’t hate it the second time around. On Friday, we hiked up Cerro San Cristóbal, which is one of the big hills in the center of the city with a beautiful, sprawling view from the top. Sadly, just like when my family was here, there was so much smog that we couldn’t see the Andes at all. After Cerro San Cristóbal, we took a tour of one of Pablo Neruda’s three houses in Chile, “La Chascona”, right down the street from the entrance to the hill. I had never been there before, and I’m so glad I went – aside from being one of the most famous Chileans in the history of this country, Neruda traveled all over the world throughout his life and collected objects from every country, like wine glasses from Mexico and paintings from Japan. He became known as a poet when he was very young, and rose to fame shortly thereafter. He occupied various diplomatic positions throughout his life, including in Spain and Mexico. He was a socialist/communist, which later led to a threat of arrest and his exile. After the “golpe de estado” (the military coup) in Chile in 1973, all three of Neruda’s houses were ransacked, Neruda’s prostate cancer worsened, and he died 12 days later. There are many theories about his death and what caused it, but there are better places for that conversation.

We then walked to the Plaza de Armas for a free walking tour, but ditched it after an hour or so because we weren’t getting much out of it. We did learn about “cafe con piernas”, about which Jordin and I learned a little previously from Sergio (host dad): it translates to “coffee with legs”, and is essentially a cafe with a Hooters-like twist (but definitely more explicit than Hooters). Men go in and sit down, the doors close, the women remove their clothes and do a little dance for a minute, and then the doors open again and it’s a “regular cafe”. There are apparently many of these around Santiago. After this (and in the process of ditching the tour), we stopped for ice cream – I haven’t eaten much ice cream in Santiago, but when I do, there are always so many vegan options! “Helado de agua” (literally “ice cream of water”) aka sorbet is very common here, with all sorts of cool flavors. The best part is sampling a few flavors before buying, so after our first taste, I asked for a taste of a different flavor, and the employee took back the spoon that I had already used and dipped it back in a different flavor of ice cream!! We were all so startled when it happened that none of us said anything – all I know is that my Health Department mother would never have stood for that, and if it happens to me again, I’ll definitely say something. But seriously…what??

We walked more around the Plaza de Armas – we visited an old and famous post office, and then went to the National History Museum nextdoor and climbed up some cool spiral staircases to the tower at the top, with a view of the whole plaza. We then walked to La Vega, which is a huge produce market, and bought lots of delicious fruit that is currently making my mouth water, like blueberries, grapes, and mini kiwis (which David spotted after he returned to the U.S. in Whole Foods, called “kiwiberries”).

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On Saturday, we left Santiago to go to La Serena, Chile! La Serena is in northern Chile (though only about ⅓ of the way down on the map), and apparently is the second oldest city after Santiago. It’s close to both the desert and the beach! It took under an hour to get there by plane (it’s about 300 miles north), and then we took a 10-minute taxi ride to our hostel in the center of the city. Two food items that are sold everywhere in every possible way in La Serena: papayas and figs. There was papaya jam, juice, candy, and everything else you could think of except for actual fresh papaya! There were all sorts of fig bars and candies as well. During lunch, we got to try papaya pisco sour, which honestly didn’t taste too different from a regular pisco sour (pisco is the most popular alcohol in Chile). We then walked about 40 minutes to the beach and walked along the cold-but-not-frigid water. For dinner, we went to a nice place that ended up costing the same as our mediocre lunch place – David and Hannah tried pisco sours (much better than at lunch), pebre (typical Chilean dip made of tomatoes, garlic, onion, and cilantro), and some typical Chilean dishes: pastel de choclo (made of ground corn and meat), porotos granados (made of corn, beans, and various vegetables), and humitas (ground corn and spices, wrapped in corn husk and boiled). Can you tell that Chileans like corn, especially ground corn? And I’m not the biggest fan. The best and most exciting part of this day started at night – we did an observatory tour at Observatorio Mamalluca! La Serena is one of the best places in Chile, if not the world, to see the stars (the best place is the Atacama Desert in the far north, where Jordin and I are going in April)! It took about an hour and a half to get there in our tour van, and the actual tour/viewing was from 11pm-1am. As soon as we got out of the van and looked up, I was speechless – I’ve never seen a sky so full of stars like this in my entire life. Additionally, the new moon was that night, which means the sky was as dark as it could possibly be and we could see even more because of it. We saw THE MILKY WAY (called the “Vía Láctea” and “Camino de Leche” in Spanish), the Southern Cross (doesn’t exist in the northern hemisphere), Orion (this is visible from both hemispheres, unlike the majority of constellations), Jupiter, and many other smaller constellations. It was incredible! We tried to take a few pictures, but none of them really turned out, and regardless, can’t even begin to compare to the view in person.

We arrived back at the hostel around 2:30am, and slept really well until we had to wake up at 7:15 for our second tour in La Serena: to the Isla Damas. We learned that there had been a 5.0 earthquake at 6am, just 100 kilometers/60 miles north of La Serena – Jordin woke up when it was happening and said it felt like “a nice Chilean lullaby”. For Chileans, a 5.0 earthquake means nothing – it’s considered a tremor. Our tour van picked us up around 8:30, and throughout the trip northwest to the coast (and through the desert!), we saw a variety of animals: guanacos (in the llama and camel families), little foxes, an owl, and condors. This was also the day of the partial solar eclipse, at which I glimpsed for a nanosecond and then never looked back – it was incredibly bright. Once we arrived at the coast, we got in our small boat for the island tours! Our group was about 15 people, plus our guide and a few people to manage the boat. We drove all around the first island and saw more animals (all while we stayed on the boat): penguins! 3 types of cormorants (birds)! Sea lions! An otter! Dolphins!! It was awesome. Then we drove to the second island, Isla Damas (literally translates to Ladies Island – where is Isla Varones?) We all got out of the boat and had an hour to explore the Isla Damas – we walked on a path around the perimeter of the island, then climbed to a little viewpoint. It was such a cool experience to be on this tiny little island in the Pacific Ocean! Just a mere hour away from shore, but an awesome realization nonetheless. After getting off the boat, our whole group went to a restaurant to eat lunch, and there was a fig tree in bloom! We took a few figs for the road and they were delicious.

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On Monday, we wandered around the town of La Serena to see some churches, one of which was the oldest building in La Serena. We all did some shopping at the artisanal fair right near our hostel, as well as the artisanal/food fair a few blocks away. Eating lunch at an outdoor market means you want to try EVERYTHING, so we did, and we all shared. We tried sopaipillas, which is a grilled circular bread (similar to pita) with avocado, pebre (a sauce similar to pico de gallo: tomato, onion, garlic, hot pepper), and merken (the best and super popular Chilean spice: smoked hot pepper) on top; fresh juices, and humitas (ground corn and onion and spices, wrapped up in a corn husk and then boiled).

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Jordin and I being twins at the airport in La Serena.

Our flight back to Santiago was in the late afternoon, and because we kept David and Hannah’s suitcases in our house while we were in La Serena, we went straight back to our house and had dinner with our host family! It was so much fun – we talked about all sorts of things, especially the Chilean food and drink that David and Hannah had tried, and it came up that they had yet to drink a terremoto, one of the most popular drinks here. After dinner, I took Hannah and David for a walk around the neighborhood, and when we got back to the house, Aly had gone out to the supermarket to buy pineapple sorbet to make everyone terremotos! So we all sat down again over snacks and terremotos, and Hannah and David didn’t head back to their apartment until after midnight. Before we even brought David and Hannah to our house, I knew that David and Sergio (host dad) would get along well if they spoke the same language because they’re both extremely friendly and crack a lot of jokes – but they got along splendidly in their two different languages. Even though the night was a lot of translation (David doesn’t speak Spanish, but kept incorporating French and Italian words and accents to make up for it, and Hannah hasn’t studied Spanish since high school yet somehow remembers everything and has an amazing accent), we all had a wonderful time, and we were laughing and even dancing throughout the night.

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However, when we arrived at our house before dinner, Aly and Sergio told us that there had been a storm up in the mountains the day before (the only time it rains in Santiago is when I’m not there…actually) that caused some destructive flooding and mudslides. They told us that at least four people died, and 19 people were missing. For more than 24 hours, the water for the entire city of Santiago was cut off – people were notified beforehand so they could stock up on water from the tap, but all water (and almost all drinks) in the supermarket were gone, we couldn’t shower, and we couldn’t wash our hands regularly (Aly and Sergio filled the bathtub with water from the pool and we used a small bucket of that in the sink). Especially because it’s back-to-school time here and Monday was the first day of the academic year for many schools, some schools were suspended by the government if there was no drinking water in that region. The water returned on Tuesday morning, but this was still scary news to return to after a weekend away. Here’s a NY Times article about it.

On Tuesday, David and Hannah’s last day in Chile, we went to the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memories and Human Rights). This was my third time going – the museum takes you through the rise and end of the dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet from 1973 through 1990. If you want to learn more about Pinochet’s dictatorship and what happened in Chile during this time, I’ve heard about the 2012 film called No – I have yet to see it, but it has been recommended to me so I will recommend it to you! Here’s the Wikipedia page.

After the museum, we had lunch at the first restaurant in Chile that I’ve seen with a salad bar (I was happy), walked around Providencia and Las Condes to see two different parts of the city (as we had mostly been in Santiago Centro), and finally returned to the apartment area to go to a big craft market that’s perfect for souvenirs. When Jordin and I were in Valparaíso and Viña del Mar with our friends, we learned about a traditional Chilean statue with some interesting features – it’s made of wood and resembles a Mapuche (an indigenous tribe from Chile). When you lift the body, a penis emerges from underneath – our friends explained that this is often a gag/joke gift to people, but they’re everywhere in Chile. I had no idea how common they were until our friends pointed them out to me, but as soon as we got to this craft market in Santiago, I suddenly saw Indio Pícaros EVERYWHERE. The reason I’m telling this story is because one stall that was selling them had a few different sizes (lined up like Russian dolls), as well as one that was probably four feet tall. There was a sign that said it cost 500 pesos (about 75 cents) to take a picture, and 20,000 pesos ($30!) to lift it! It probably weighs between 50-100 pounds, so it makes sense that the stall owner wants to be careful with it. But I have no interest in seeing what is underneath, nor do I want to spend 20,000 pesos on that.

All in all, I had an amazing week with David and Hannah – every time I show the city to someone else, I learn so much more than I did the first time, and I learn from the people to whom I’m showing it (especially when one is an architect). Thanks for coming!!

Today, Jordin and I hung out with two of our best friends here, Valentina (26) and Cristían (20) who are siblings, and together we call ourselves “los hermanos” (the siblings). The four of us get along really well and I absolutely love them. Jordin and I met their parents for the first time tonight, and even though it was only for a few minutes, they were so warm and welcoming towards us and said they’d already heard so much about us, and it just made me feel warm and happy. I’m so thankful to have met such awesome people here! We had a Disney movie day – we watched Mulan (in Spanish), and Moana (FANTASTIC – and I could hear Lin-Manuel Miranda’s style in every single song). Here’s a photo of Los Hermanos in Viña del Mar:

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Thank you to YOU for reading! Please reach out via email/Facebook message and fill me on how you’re doing, anything you’d like to see more of in the blog, or suggestions for things we should do here in our final 2.5 months! Besos y abrazos!

95 degrees, sunny, and NOT humid: summer in Santiago!

Holaaaa! Happy February! We’ve been back from our travels with our family for just over a month now, and immediately got back into the swing of things – our class schedules, going to Spanglish Party every Tuesday, salsa and bachata classes every week (I finally started going), meeting up with friends, and sweating all day long in the 90+ degree heat. We’ve recently had a few “chilly” days, meaning a high of 82, so I am blissfully happy about that, but sadly it will be getting hot again soon. Here are a bunch of little updates:

It’s currently 72 degrees and I’m wearing a sweater – I hate admitting to myself that it’s chilly right now…I refuse! This weather is incredible. The other day, it was 60 degrees at 9am and I thought my Weather app wasn’t working because I didn’t believe that it wasn’t 85 degrees already. Sorry to everyone who is living in a snowstorm right now – please know that I am very jealous and I WISH there was snow here! I would love to be snowed in my house right now, with cats around me, watching Mel do her homework.

A few weeks ago, we went to Fantasilandia (Fantasyland), the only amusement park in all of Chile, with a bunch of our Chilean friends. Even though it’s the only park in Chile, it’s incredibly small in comparison to some of the parks I’ve been to, like Hershey Park and Dorney Park. I’m not the biggest fan of amusement parks, and everyone made fun of me when I didn’t want to go on the one big rollercoaster that they have, even though I’ve been on many in the past. Unfortunately, because it’s summer and it was a weekend, we waited about an hour for each 30-second ride. Needless to say, I have no inclination to return, but it was fun for a day.

January 20th was a heartbreak of a day here – talking to people about the inauguration was nauseating, even though (most) of the people with whom I spoke were genuinely curious about the political climate in the U.S. right now. I talked with one man who tried to convince me that because sexual assault happens all over the world, because men yell and shout vulgarities and other “normal” things at women all the time, it’s normal and that won’t change. He refused to listen to my point that because Trump is now the President of the United States (just gagged a little saying that), catcalling and sexual assault is only normalized more because we have a president who says that it’s okay. I stopped engaging with this man as soon as I realized he would never allow me to speak. On to the next.

Salsa and Bachata classes: I finally started going to the dance classes Jordin has been going to for two months, and I absolutely love them – I wish I started earlier. I’ve gone three times already, and I plan to continue as long as we’re here. The classes are twice a week, completely outside behind a huge art/performance building (it reminds me of the Kimmel Center – photo below of the dance space), and Jordin can only go one of those nights, so hopefully I’ll catch up to him by going twice a week instead of once. Each night that the classes are offered, there are two 1-hour classes, one of salsa cubana en rueda, and the other bachata en rueda. Rueda means it’s dancing in a circle and you constantly change partners, which is fantastic, because you have the chance to dance with people with all levels of dance experience. I’ve already made some friends through the class, and one guy was really impressed when he heard that I have seven years of dance experience, but then less impressed when I said that almost all of those years were non-competitive, just dancing in a group/performances for fun, and that I have no salsa or bachata experience. So far, I looooooove the salsa class, and it’s definitely easier for me than bachata – I even got some compliments from Chileans who probably didn’t believe that a gringa could pick up the moves, so that gave me confidence. But bachata is another story – last night, for some reason I had so much trouble with the second half of the moves that we learned and completely embarrassed myself. But oh well! That’s what practice is for. Videos to come!

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In the month that we’ve been back, there have been three more pool parties with Spanglish Party, the language exchange group Jordin and I go to every week. Almost all of our friends in Chile are from Spanglish – different people go to the meetups at bars every week, and we always meet new people at the pool parties. Last weekend, we met a bunch of new people with whom we’ve already hung out since, and have plans with this weekend. At one of the pool parties a few weeks ago, it was 95 degrees out, so everyone was swimming, but the pool is always so cold. There were a few little kids there (related to the family of the woman who runs Spanglish), and they kept jumping in, getting out, and jumping in again. I watched this tiny little girl pull my friend into the water after my friend was sitting on the steps trying to get used to the frigid water Then the girl looked at me and said, “¿Y tú?”, and it was almost as if she said, “Et tu, Brute?” because she promptly dragged me into the water and pulled off my sunglasses to make me go under.

We’ve been eating a lot of incredibly delicious watermelon as a dessert after lunch, and these watermelons are significantly bigger than those at home. When Sergio (host dad) cuts it, he slices the melon in half the long way, and each person gets about ¼ of that half, which is ENORMOUS. Jordin and I always ask to split one of those slices, because even though I would love to eat watermelon all day long, I can’t eat that much after a full lunch. It’s honestly ridiculous how large those slices are. Additionally, some of our host family members like to put a certain type of flour on their watermelon. It’s called “harina tostada”, which translates to “toasted flour”, but I’m not sure exactly what it is – it’s not something I eat, but another little Chilean quirk and addition to my list of different ways that Chileans eat their fruit.

I had one new student that I taught only in January, and she is actually the niece of a colleague of one of you lovely readers! As I learned in my TEFL course in October, one of the best ways to find students is through word of mouth, and that worked out for me. I met up with this colleague in December just to say hi, and when I sent her a thank you email, she asked if I would be interested in teaching her niece. Moral of the story: always send thank-you notes, not only to express your gratitude, but because you never know what could come out of it. I currently have eight students in total that I have taught, but a few went on vacation, so my schedule has been pretty flexible. Just this week, I taught three new students, yet still fell short a class or two in terms of my earning goal for the week. I met one student through Spanglish, one through the salsa class, and one who is the son of someone who came to the free classes during our course in October. The best places to find students are by getting out and meeting new people, because many Chileans either want an English teacher, or have a friend that does. General update: classes are going very well, I really like all of my students (both old and new), and I’m always learning from them.

As you may remember from my last post, when my family was in Patagonia, we met two fantastic women, Grace and Aimee, who are currently traveling the world for six months. A few weeks after Patagonia, they spent a week in Santiago, and we got to hang out with them a few times! One of the places where we went is called the Mercado Central, which is a huge food market in Santiago known for its seafood and fresh produce. We bought 1 kilo of strawberries for 1000 pesos (about $1.50) and you bet we ate them all.

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In the past month, Chile has had tons of fires throughout the country, but especially in the south. A state of emergency was declared in at least three regions of Chile, and it was the largest emergency operation in the country’s history. With the drought and extremely high temperatures (in the mid/high 90s during the day, 70s/80s during the night), entire forests, farms, and even towns have been burned to the ground. A few firemen and police died, which is a huge deal and was the highlight of the news for days. At one point, there were at least 135 active fires, with at least half out of control, and over 300,000 acres (twice the size of New York City) burned in central and southern Chile (this was a statistic from a few weeks ago, so it definitely increased afterward).

In Santiago, there was much more smog than usual and we couldn’t see the mountains at all for a few weeks (photo below). While this could and should have been breaking news around the world, unfortunately the actions of a certain administration in the U.S. has been taking that stage instead. At another point, we heard that there were approximately 44-100 fires just in the metropolitan area of Santiago, and many more in the south. There are many suspicions about what caused the fires: many were intentionally caused by pyromaniacs (which is how the news described them), negligence, the fact that Chile is a dry country with little rain, and the high summer temperatures. Some of the people suspected to have started the fires were arrested. There was eventually some international aid, and planes with water and other fire-fighting materials arrived in Chile, including a huge “supertanker” from the U.S. When discussing all this with our host parents, they mentioned that it took 10 days of hundreds of active fires for the U.S. and other countries to take notice and send help – that is apparently very common here. When discussing all of the environmental disasters that have been happening in the world, our host parents suggested that maybe the inauguration of Trump just caused them all. I would agree. Here are a few articles about these fires if you want to read more:

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A few weeks ago I went to a play with some friends (all in Spanish, but easier to understand than Chileans speaking regularly because the actors were enunciating really well), and afterward we went to a famous bar called La Piojera. Apparently, it’s been around since the late 1800s, but it’s known for being a bar that attracts a lot of foreigners. I actually had never heard of it until the week before we went, when my Chilean friends suggested that we go there. It’s famous for the terremotos, a famous Chilean drink made of pipeño (a sweet Chilean wine), grenadine, and is topped off by a scoop of pineapple sorbet. I’ve had my share of these here in Chile, but they’re unbelievably sweet, and at La Piojera, they were unbelievably STRONG for a lightweight like me. Terremoto means earthquake, and the drink has the name because when you stand up after drinking it, your legs are usually very shaky. Well, after THIS terremoto, I finally got that experience, and I still felt it four hours later and after I refilled my water bottle twice (I carry my water bottle everywhere, a typical gringa move at which Chileans are always surprised). Except for the fact that La Piojera is one of the oldest bars in the city, I feel no need to return: it’s big, loud, dirty, and served me a drink that made me almost fall over. We went to a karaoke bar after La Piojera, and I sang Bohemian Rhapsody with one of my Chilean friends – I know this song is popular for this in the U.S., but it was chosen soooo many times by Chileans! I had a blast singing it, and then made the poor decision of singing Taylor Swift’s “22”, thankfully with another Chilean friend who loves Taylor Swift, at which point I realized that literally no one in the bar knew the song and that it was a terrible decision. But it happened, there’s a (private) video, and I will never sing Taylor Swift in a Chilean bar again. Just in my head.

Aly and Sergio (host parents) have a group of friends, five couples in total, with whom they get together once a month, without fail. They throw together some money every month to save for these occasions, and while they sometimes go out to a restaurant, they usually gather at one of their houses for a night of eating, drinking, and talking. I’ve met all these friends before, but this time it was at our house, and some of them were still at our house AFTER I came back from going out (Chileans stay up veryyyy late). But I love that Aly, Sergio, and their friends prioritize this on their calendar and set aside time every month for this, and I hope I can keep up a schedule like that with friends in the future.

Our host family made humitas! Humitas are a traditional Chilean dish of ground corn, onion and basil, all wrapped in corn husks and tied with string, and then boiled. I’m not the biggest fan of ground corn, but it was really cool to see the process of making them and getting to try them afterward (see photo below).
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The supermoon was beautiful here!

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Leo (host toddler) is growing very fast – he is now 1 year and 9 months, and seems significantly older than when we arrived here 4.5 months ago. He still doesn’t talk, but he makes tons of sounds, including “mama” for everything, whether or not that person is his mother. When I watch him listening to people talk to him and see him understand and respond, every time I am reminded how COOL language is and how babies can learn so much when their brains are so malleable. Leo could learn and become fluent in any language he is exposed to while he’s young, and that’s freaking awesome. Here’s a picture of Leo eating a banana that you may enjoy.img_0026

House garden update: the peach tree is now in bloom, so naturally I am eating many of them each day (though significantly fewer than I ate when the apricot tree was in bloom). They’re less sweet than supermarket/typical peaches, but I really like them. Additionally, we have a grapevine and get to eat fresh green grapes! Last but not least, the almond tree is starting to bloom – they come in a shell, which you have to break open with a hammer in order to remove the one, singular almond inside. But it’s awesome to see and they taste great.

The other day, I explained to some Chilean friends what pretzels are because they don’t exist here, and I suddenly missed pretzels a lot. Then I got over it.

I saw this beautiful mural about public education and think it’s incredibly relevant right now, especially in light of recent events. It says: Public education: “In our hands is the hope for a better future.” Diversity, inclusion, justice, participation, community.

Important message here

Current vocabulary confusion:

  • Coger – to take, grab, seize
  • Encoger – to shrink
  • Recoger – to pick up, collect, clean up

Thanks for reading! We have a bunch of plans in the next few weeks, so the next post should be more exciting than this one. Until then, stay warm and enjoy February! Please send me updates or say hi via email/Facebook messenger/Snapchat/iMessage (to my email), if nothing else but to send pictures of snow or whatever weather you’re in, and I promise that you’ll feel better about your weather than mine when I send you back pictures of the 95-degree summer heat in Santiago. 

Two beautiful weeks: Chilean Patagonia, Machu Picchu, and MEL!

Happy New Year! I hope you had a restful and rejuvenating holiday break! So much has happened since the last post, and I am finally getting around to writing all of it down. Before I begin, I encourage you to please click the title of this post and read it on the website as opposed to on your email – the formatting is much cleaner and the quality of the photos is better. A quick recap: in our first three months in Chile, Jordin and I earned our TEFL certifications, found students and started English classes with students of all ages, and have made a bunch of friends (mostly through Spanglish Party, the language exchange).

At the end of those three months, our family finally came to Chile!! Yes, Mel stepped away from her junior year and crazy schedule just to hang out with me, but also to hike in one of the most beautiful places in the world: Chilean Patagonia. They arrived on Wednesday, December 21, my parents exhausted from their first long flight in many years (and Mel’s first long flight in her life), with hiking gear, 84 Clif bars, and 3 large jars of peanut butter in tow. Let’s clarify: the Clif bars were for our trip (but the extras are for meeee), and the peanut butter is to keep in our host family’s house because peanut butter here is imported from the U.S. and very expensive (maybe the peanut butter thing is really cliche of Americans but also it’s very important). We all reunited at their hotel, and I may have shed a tear or two when I saw Mel for the first time. After making themselves look a little more presentable after 10 hours on a plane, we all took the metro together to our host family’s house. Aly (host mom) really outdid herself, but of course did it all without looking like she tried: she made a typical Chilean dish, pastel de choclo, which I can only describe as a casserole-type dish made of ground corn, various vegetables, and meat, but for us it was carne vegetal (veggie meat). There were various side salads, a plate of multiple types of olives just for my dad (he’s the only one in our family who likes them), and Chilean wine. Even though my parents don’t speak Spanish and my host family doesn’t speak English, they got along very well! Jordin and I were the translators, and we made Mel speak at least a few times (she’s in her 3rd year of Spanish…she needs to practice), but we discussed many different topics and everyone seemed to understand what was going on. My dad had been practicing his Spanish for weeks before arriving, and even prepared a few sentences for our host family, which was very cute. My family had brought a few gifts for our host family, and our host family gave each of us gifts in return, which I didn’t expect: Chilean wine for my dad, copper coasters for my mom, and a copper bracelet and ring for Mel (copper is a big product of Chile). When Jordin and I were in our rooms getting our stuff together after the meal, there was a point when I realized that my parents were outside with our host family and neither Jordin nor I were there to translate, and I thought, “OMG ARE THEY OK WHAT ARE THEY DOING??” and ran outside. But sure enough, they were getting along just fine on their own – the whole day, both of my parents tried so hard to speak Spanish, and I have to give them props for that. None of the pictures we took as a group came out perfectly, so below is the best of them. My parents fell asleep as soon as we got back to the hotel, and I made Mel give me all of the updates about her life before sleeping since she’s not the best at communicating when we’re not together (hopefully this will encourage her to text me more).

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During my family’s time in Chile, we had two full days in Santiago. The first day, we climbed Cerro San Cristobal, which is a big hill in the center of the city, and from the top, you can get a marvelous view of the city and the mountains, especially if it rained recently. Unfortunately, the smog was so thick that we couldn’t see the mountains at all. We walked to La Moneda, which is the general government center and where the President of Chile works. The architecture in that neighborhood is very different than in other parts of Santiago – it reminds me very much of Buenos Aires, with European-style buildings. For lunch and dinner, we went to two fantastic vegan restaurants (yes, they exist here, and yes, they were the same price, if not cheaper, as typical Chilean restaurants).San Cristobal3.jpg

 

PATAGONIA!

Dec. 23 – The first day of our trip to PATAGONIA! We almost missed our flight to Punta Arenas (traveler’s tip: always continually check the TV screens that list the gates for every flight in case your gate changes), but 3 hours later, we arrived and then took a 2.5 hour bus ride to Puerto Natales. I would highly recommend you to look at a map of Chile right now to get a visual of where we were – the country is as long as the U.S. is wide, so it takes a long time to get from one place to the other. Most Chileans consider Chiloe, a sector of islands in the south of Chile, to be the VERY south of the country, since that’s the farthest south to which people usually travel if you’re not going to Patagonia. But if you look on the map (here’s a map that points to Chiloe), you’ll see it’s only halfway between Santiago and the actual end of the country. Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales are wayyyyy farther down – we were actually at the end of the world!

Dec. 24: Day 1 of the W-trek: The next day, we started our five-day trek in Patagonia, which is called the “W trek”, because if you look at the map of where you hike, it makes the shape of a W. Patagonia is a region in both Chile and Argentina, but there are many separate parks inside. The most popular national park in Chile is called Torres del Paine. “Torres” means towers, and there are 3 immense rock towers in the park (you’ll see a photo soon), and “Paine” is an indigenous word for the colors in the sky during twilight, which are various shades of blue. So “Torres del Paine” translates to “towers of blue”. We did the trek through an agency called Chile Nativo – we were a group of 13 overall, plus our two amazing guides. Our group drove about 1.5 hours from Puerto Natales into the park of Torres del Paine, on a road called El Fin De Mundo (“The end of the world”) and hiked around for a few hours until we met up with the van again, which took us to our first refugio (basically a campsite, but indoor rooms as well as tents), where we stayed for the night. That night was Christmas Eve, so there was a big buffet dinner, decorations, and lots of interesting drinks. Every refugio we stayed in served meals at long tables, so sometimes we sat with people who weren’t in our group. That first night, our group had a table and a half reserved, but before my family could disperse ourselves among the tables to talk with different people, everyone else sat down at the first table, so my family sat separately. We all were thinking, “Oh no, I hope everyone else doesn’t think that we only want to sit and interact with each other this whole time!” But this situation turned out to be serendipitous, because we sat next to two best friends from California, Grace and Aimee, who had just quit their nursing jobs and are traveling the world for six months. We found out that their W-trek schedule was the same as ours, and we would be staying in most of the same refugios each night, so we expected to see them again at some point. At the end of dinner, we wished them the best on their travels and then said goodnight. Little did we know, we would see them every day, multiple times a day, and become good enough friends that Jordin and I hung out with them in Santiago a few weeks later (just last week!). Lesson for all: always introduce yourself to the people you’re sitting next to! Hopefully they’ll be friendly back, and you may even make some lifelong friends out of them.

 

Dec. 25, Day 2 of the W: We woke up early to see a gorgeous sunrise on the towers (of which we had a great view from our bedroom). This was the first of our really strenuous hiking days – we had breakfast at 7am, and left at 8:30 to start our hike up to the towers: 18 kilometers (11-12 miles) roundtrip. We passed through every type of terrain in the book – open fields, steep switchbacks, forest, streams (thank goodness for waterproof hiking boots), and finally, the last kilometer was straight uphill to the top. Our hiking poles were crucial for this part – even though it was only 1 kilometer/.6 miles, it was almost a 1000 foot climb, so it took us over an hour, and every step took a lot of planning because of how rocky it was. The views at the top were spectacular – we were next to a gorgeous blue lake, with the three towers just beyond it. The lakes reminded us of the incredible blue lakes in Banff National Park and Lake Louise in Canada – the beautiful blue color is a result of it being next to a glacier.

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Even though I was wearing a t-shirt during the last part of the climb, as soon as we arrived at the top, we all had to put our layers on again because it was very cold. On the way down, it started to snow for a few minutes, so we did enjoy a bit of a white Christmas, and we passed many other hikers in Santa hats who were wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. Even though the way up was a lot of work on the quads, the way down was brutal on the knees, and I thought it was harder than climbing up. Story of the day (which may be TMI, but when you’re backpacking, nothing is TMI): taking a nature pee was tranquil as usual, but standing UP from the nature pee was incredibly painful because of how much stress climbing up and down that last kilometer put on my knees. However, if you’re going to take a nature pee anywhere, you really can’t choose better scenery than Patagonia! :) Quote of the day on the way down: much of the route was downhill, since we had ascended so much during the day, but at times there significant hills to climb. At one point, there was a HUGE hill that neither Mel nor I remembered from the way up to the towers, and Mel gasped at it and said, “Is that for us??” Yes, indeed it was. 

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Dec. 26, Day 3 of the W: Our 3rd day of the trek was incredibly windy, so much that the wind blew me over a few times, and most people fell at least once. One of our guides, Tati, yelled into the wind, “THIS IS PATAGONIAAAA!” Even though this day wasn’t as significantly long as the others, we still hiked over 10 miles. When we arrived at the refugio, it was so windy that the glass on the windows was rattling. We went down to the beach with Grace and Aimee (the two world travelers we met) and the wind was INSANE – we stood on the shore and could see the wind coming across the lake because it was pushing the fog. All of a sudden, the wind was so strong that I could lean back into the air and still be pushed forward – it was like a cold, wet rollercoaster. Aimee fell down completely one time – I’m surprised the rest of us didn’t. All of us got soaked because the wind also blew in a lot of moisture – so much for my change of clothes!

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Dec. 27, Day 4 of the W: The 4th day of the trek was the second really long day. We hiked from Refugio Los Cuernos to two different lookout points, called Francés and Británico. We left at 8am and didn’t arrive at the next refugio until after 6pm. We hiked through all sorts of terrain – a lake shoreline, forest, streams, climbing through rocks – you name it. At the French lookout point, we could see blue water/island-looking landscapes in one direction, then turn to the other side and only see glaciers – SO COOL. We then hiked to the British lookout point, which was a central lookout in the middle of an enormous landscape of tallgranite rocks, one of which one of our guides has climbed. On the way down, we passed through forests where the trees were burned and windswept – there have been many fires in Torres del Paine, and many have been caused by tourists being careless, such as cooking in an area that wasn’t a campsite. When we finally arrived at the last refugio, Jordin, my dad, and I hung out with Grace and Aimee at the bar for a while before dinner. Even though the refugios were like little campsites, each one had a bar and they were exceedingly expensive (understandable because of the cost of transporting the liquor all the way there) – a bottle of wine that costs 3,500 Chilean pesos (around $5) in Santiago cost 20,000 pesos ($30) here! The dinner at this refugio was served cafeteria style, so Jordin and I sat with Grace and Aimee and talked with them for a number of hours. Total stats on this day: 38,500 steps, 25 km/15 miles, 400 floors climbed (thank you, someone’s iPhone health app!).

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Dec. 28, Day 5 of the W: We only hiked 11 km this day (almost 7 miles – which seems like nothing in comparison to our 15-mile days), from the last refugio to a black sand beach, where we ate lunch while waiting for our boat. We took this boat for an hour and a half and saw an enormous blue glacier. We also had the chance to drink pisco sours (popular Chilean drink) with glacial ice! I was a little skeptical about where this ice came from (I didn’t want them to be taking ice from the actual glacier just for drinks!) , but they told us that it came from small pieces of the glacier that are floating in the water, far from the main part.
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All in all, our five day W-trek in Patagonia was INCREDIBLE. It was by far the most strenuous hiking I’ve ever done, especially because it was backpacking instead of just day hikes, but the scenery and overall experience were unbelievable. To anyone interested: this was my family’s first time backpacking together, but this wasn’t “full” backpacking because we weren’t carrying five days worth of food, cooking materials, sleeping bags, etc., as we spent each night at a refugio, and ate dinner and breakfast at each one.

General notes about Patagonia:

  • We were lucky to have perfect weather throughout the five days. We heard from others who did the trek a few days before us that they had to hike through pouring rain, and even snow, and that’s always a miserable experience when you’re completely soaked AND it’s cold. We got drizzled on a few times, but never more than that.
  • We carried our trash with us, and didn’t wash our hair for five days. Most if not all of the trash in the park gets carried out by horses (which we observed), so keeping a few granola bar wrappers in our backpacks didn’t add any extra weight for us. In terms of showering, there were showers at all of the refugios, and we each took one or two over the five days, but we we were advised not to use shampoo/conditioner because everything drains into the park’s system, and those are chemicals that the park doesn’t need. Definitely not an issue for us, but it very much shows in the photos as the trip goes on ;)
  • We drank water straight from the streams in the park! Before you question that, please know that my family is the first one to come prepared with water filters and iodine tablets, especially as my mom used to work in the Philadelphia Health Department and knows what’s up with bacteria that we don’t want. After talking with multiple people who have traveled to Patagonia and drank the water there without filtration, I decided to give it a go – and this water is the most pure, best water I’ve ever tasted (and it was always cold). The streams come right from the glaciers, and this water is probably the least contaminated water in the entire world. After indulging in this water for a few days, I braced myself in case my body was going to reject it – but it never happened. I still dream about that water.
  • We were really surprised at the food waste we saw in the refugios. It wasn’t buffet style, so everything was served to us (equal portions for everyone), which means that everything not eaten went to waste. Every morning at breakfast, each person was served three pieces of bread (among other things), and the portions at dinner were huge. There was one night that no one at my table finished their dinner. We were particularly surprised at these portions, especially because we were in a national park where they stress conservation and reducing your footprint.
  • I am unbelievably proud of my mom, not only for owning up to the fact that she was the slowest hiker in our group of 15, but MOST importantly, for going five days without coffee. This is the woman who roasts her own beans at home and can’t even go out to get the newspaper without her brew in hand – I don’t know how she achieved this feat, but it must’ve been that pure, clear air in Patagonia that gave her the extra energy. Brava mama!

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We had one travel day back to Santiago (Dec. 29th), and then one full day (Dec. 30th) in the city before my mom and Mel headed back to the states because Mel had that thing called “high school” to return to. We went to the Museo de Derechos Humanos y Memorias (Museum of Human Rights and Memories), which is all about the human rights violations during President Pinochet’s regime between 1973 and 1990s. The museum is meant to commemorate the victims of these violations, especially the thousands of people who went missing. It also reminded Jordin and me a lot of the Holocaust museums in both Washington D.C. and in Israel, especially because the architecture is so unique. We went to another fantastic vegan restaurant for lunch (even in a country with a lot of meat, veganism exists y’all!), and by the time we finished and walked around for a bit, it was time to head to the airport. After Mel and I spent a long time meandering through the countless Britt shops (with lots of free samples of dark chocolate-covered things), we said goodbye to Mel and my mom as they boarded their flight back to the states.

 

WEEK 2 – the Sacred Valley in Peru!

And then there were three! Our flight from Santiago to Peru arrived around 1am in Lima, and then we spent a lovely four hours in the airport waiting for our 5am flight to Cusco. The altitude in Cusco is 11,000 feet (!), so we had a ride already set up to drive us from the city of Cusco to Ollantaytambo, which sits at a mere 9,100 feet. Two hours later, we arrived at our hotel…at 9am in the morning. Immediately, we took a nap, and then roused ourselves for lunch. We couldn’t drink any unfiltered water in Peru (I started missing the glacial water as soon as we left Patagonia), and though we had filters, we drank a lot of tea at meals. Coca leaves, as in from the plant that is cultivated to make cocaine, are very popular in Peru, either to chew or in tea. It is also said to help with altitude sickness, so we drank a lot of coca tea during our five days in Peru. The city of Ollantaytambo, located in the lower valley, definitely attracts tourists on their way to/from Machu Picchu, but it also is full of culture and history. The town had very narrow streets of cobblestones, which were built by the Incas hundreds of years ago. I can’t compare the mountains in the Sacred Valley to anything I’ve seen before – they are so green, so lush, and SO CLOSE to you at all times. You walk outside and look straight up, and there are the mountains. We hiked up to some cool ruins on the side of one of the mountains – what would have taken us 15-20 minutes at a lower altitude took us about an hour because we had to stop to breathe and rehydrate very frequently. For a nice touch on our first day, there was a man playing the flute at the top of these ruins, so ascending and descending the mountain with that music in the background made me feel like I was in a movie. At our first dinner in Peru, we tried traditional quinoa soup – quinoa originated in Latin America and is very popular in Peru, which definitely makes a vegan family happy. When we returned to our hotel, on New Year’s Eve of 2016, we all fell into a much needed sleep at 9pm. None of us even thought about drinking anything throughout our stay in Peru because: lightweights + altitude + alcohol = a disaster waiting to happen.

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New Year’s Day 2017!

We woke up around 6:30am, the latest we would wake up on the entire trip, and our guide for the day, Paull, arrived at 8. We started our climb to the village of Pumamarca, which sits at 11,000 feet and dates back to the year 1200. We passed through the land of various families on the way up, and even got to see some adorable piglets. We arrived at the ruins of Pumamarca, and Paull told us all about the history of the Incan people (this is relevant to everywhere we traveled while in Peru). The biggest takeaway of this trip is that the Incans were brilliant in their design – you’ll see:

  • The trinity of the puma (represents the earth and power), the snake (the underworld and wisdom), and the condor (the sky and freedom) was incredibly important, and their images are all over the Incan ruins in various cities. Additionally, we later climbed to see ruins of a temple (described more below) which looks like a llama from a bird’s eye view, and this llama represented fertility.
  • The original windows in Pumamarca and throughout Machu Picchu are trapezoidal, and the stone walls lean against each other in a certain way, both of which helps protect them from earthquake destruction.
  • There are terraces all over the Incan ruins – they were incredibly effective at creating different microclimates for different crops.img_3659
  • There are water channels everywhere, not only on this mountain where Pumamarca is located, but throughout Ollantaytambo, the town of Aguas Calientes (where we traveled next), and the ruins of Machu Picchu. These water channels come from the top of the snow-capped mountains (15,000 feet), and are all constructed of stone. They all still have water running through them, and they used to irrigate the terraces.
  • Peru grows 1200 kinds of potatoes, some of which used to be grown on the terraces, along with corn, quinoa, wheat, and lima beans (and we saw all of these plants!).
  • In Pumamarca, a temple in the city of Ollantaytambo (which we climbed), and in Machu Picchu, everything was originally designed with the sun’s light in mind, especially during the summer and winter solstices. The first light from the sun at each solstice comes up at the exact same spot every year, and the Incans designed certain parts of their buildings (the ways that they faced, where they placed stone benches, etc) to point out these exact light locations. SO COOL.
  • The fountains in the temple were cut in a way to resemble an Incan cross, and were built with a kind of stone that would never be worn away by the water. The Incans also designed a catch basin that forced the water to move in a circle, which prevented the stone from eroding in the basin. Brilliant.
  • Agave plants are everywhere, and some of them grow into very tall trees, but the Peruvians don’t use it for a sweetener nor tequila.

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All of the locals in the town of Ollantaytambo were wearing traditional Inca clothing, which was very colorful, and we got to witness the swearing-in ceremony of the new mayor of the town.

 

January 2 – Paull was our guide for the day again, and we traveled to two different places.

  • Las Salineras (salt flats)there was one small spring at the top of the flats that produces saline water (about 60% salt), which has had the same flow for 500 years. The salt flats are used to this day, with hundreds of shallow “pools” that each have a few inches of water, which the sun dehydrates and the salt is left at the bottom. The spring at the top flows throughout the entire area, trickling into each pool, and the salt ends up in three layers after it dehydrates: pure white, pink, and pink salt mixed with clay.

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  • Moray was the agricultural laboratory for the Incas (elevation: 11,404 feet). There were three major formations of seven circles each (all in terraces), allowing for different microclimates of crops. The Incas would acclimatize the plants, both food and medicinal crops, depending on whether they could grow at higher or lower terraces. They were able to get coca leaves, one of the biggest products, to grow at 9-11,000 feet where it can only grow at 1-4,000 feet in other parts of the world. There are apparently 80 different climate zones at Moray, and the Incans used the wall shapes to change the climates. They brought soil from all over Peru to try different combinations of seeds and soil, and essentially developed their own seeds to meet their objectives at all sorts of climates. So basically they were agricultural scientists that were extremely accomplished.

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More cool information:

  • The chacana is a sacred symbol of the Incas, which we saw throughout our trip – carved into stone, within the stones in the streets, and on jewelry (lots of necklaces, both for women and men), clothing, and art. There are a variety of interpretations, but here is what we were told. 
    • The four sides represent: earth/water/air/fire, as well asNorth/South/East/West.
    • The upper and lower (or left and right) halves represent the male and female.
    • The four “corners” with three points each (multiple interpretations):
      • Past, present, future
      • Heaven, the earth, the underworldperuvian-chakana-necklace-black-stone-j0290-01-66
      • Work, knowledge, love (all are connected – you can’t work successfully without knowledge or love)
      • The trinity: condor (upper world/sky), puma (power), snake (underworld – not bad)
    • The center hole represents the Incan capital, Cusco
    • The 12 corners represent the Incan calendar

 

Later in the day, we traveled to the town of Aguas Calientes, which is also referred to as the town of Machu Picchu, since it’s where everyone stays when going to see the ruins. We took the PeruRail Vistadome train for 1.5 hours, and it was awesome – we traveled from the high lands down to the jungle, and saw all sorts of different terrain throughout the ride. Everyone had an assigned seat at tables of four, and the staff served tea and some type of quinoa bread, which was delicious. There is only one track from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, so when trains pass each other, one has to move to a side rail, and to make this happen, someone has to get out of the train and manually switch the tracks. Aguas Calientes sits on a huge hill (read: a mountain), and there is no vehicle traffic – everything is on foot, which means that everyone pushing wheelbarrows of materials around is INSANELY strong. When you look up from the road, you’re just surrounded by huge green mountains and it’s AWESOME.

 

January 3 – Machu Picchu!

We rose at 4:30am (not even our earliest of the trip), ate breakfast at 5 in our hotel (it was very crowded), and walked five minutes to get to the bus station by 5:30, at which there was already a long line of people waiting to get on the buses up to Machu Picchu. The bus ride was about 30 minutes, and went up the mountains via switchbacks. We met two travelers from Canada in line, Chloe and Scott, and ended up spending the whole day with them. There are three peaks through the gates in Machu Picchu, and the tallest is called Wayna Picchu, which we hiked the first day. It was incredibly steep – the elevation gain was about 1000 feet, so it took us about 1 hour and 15 minutes to climb up. So putting the elevation gain and the altitude together, it takes a bit of time as well as countless breaks. There were a few switchbacks, but the majority of the climb was stone steps, which at times were basically vertical, and often very narrow. We were lucky to have perfect weather, so could see everything, including the fast-moving clouds moving up around the mountains and past the city of Machu Picchu. One of the best parts of this hike was when we got toward the top and passed through a beautiful lookout point, and there was man dressed in long pants, a long-sleeve shirt, a vest, and a tie (and we were dripping in sweat in our t-shirts, if that’s any indication of how hot it was/the difficulty of the climb) dancing like crazy on the side of the mountain. Apparently, he creates videos of himself dancing in travel destinations and posts them on his website and youtube channel. He hasn’t posted the video yet, but I will definitely post that video when it’s published because I’m sure it will be hilarious. We got some beautiful pictures at the top, just before some larger clouds came in and completely blocked the view of Machu Picchu. The climb down was slightly treacherous, especially because at one point we had to crouch our way through a 5-meter long tunnel. When we finally reached the bottom around 10am, we met our guide from the two previous days, Paull (we really liked him), for a tour of the city of Machu Picchu. At this point, it was cloudy and started raining for about an hour, so we were very happy that we climbed Wayna Picchu much earlier in the morning.

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Twins dressing like twins.

 

Facts about Machu Picchu:

  • People generally didn’t live there for very long – it was more of a temporary home for people passing through, from 6 months for 4 years. Most people passed through for a specific reason.
  • About 70% of the ruins are original, and the rest have either been or are currently being restored.
  • The city is built over a river that ran around the mountain like a snake (in the trinity), resembling mother earth.
  • It took 30 years to build the foundation of Machu Picchu – the terrace system, the drainage system, etc.
  • Machu Picchu receives almost 2000 cm/787 inches of rain every year! Many people who have studied the city extensively wouldn’t have chosen this area to build a city because of the rain, but the Incas chose it because it is in the center of 10 mountains, which represented eternity, and was built as a center of learning for the priests and more important members of the Inca Empire. It was built to last for eternity because it was built for religious purposes, as opposed to for power or love.
  • About 70 mummies have been discovered in Machu Picchu – people were buried in the fetal position because they believed that if they were buried like a baby, they would be reincarnated as a baby.
  • The acoustics of the temples within the city were designed so everyone could hear (we clapped our hands and could hear everything echoing back).
  • The words Machu Picchu are in the indigenous language of Quechua (pronounced “ketch-oo-a”), which many of the locals still speak. The words translate to “ancient mountain”, but relates to the three peaks that are in the center of the valleys: each peak is called a “Picchu” because of the shape, and the Incas used the peak of Machu Picchu as a lookout to see all three valleys.
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Classic shot of Machu Picchu!

 

Wednesday, January 4

We went to Machu Picchu for the second time to hike to the “Puerta del Sol”, called the “Sun Gate” in English. While we were still able to see the city of Machu Picchu and the mountain of Wayna Picchu (we climbed it the day before – this is the tallest mountain in the back of the classic Machu Picchu picture), it was incredibly foggy, so we were very thankful that we got the full view the day before. However, we were able to snag a llama selfie even in the rain, so that day was worth it.

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Later in the afternoon, we took the PeruRail train from Aguas Calientes back to Ollantaytambo. After receiving our tea, someone dressed in a rainbow costume with a puma mask started dancing along our train car to Peruvian music. Then the two servers did a short fashion show of various clothes made of alpaca that were for sale. While much of the women’s clothing was incredibly versatile (one was a dress, a shawl, and a scarf), it was also very expensive. After arriving in Ollantaytambo, we drove straight to Cusco (2 hours), and our driver told us that the reason that Peruvians generally don’t need orthodontia and have great teeth is because of all of the coca leaves they chew.

That night was our only night in Cusco, and we wished we had more time to explore the very historic and beautiful city. We found an awesome restaurant/art cafe for dinner, and my dad even purchased a cool piece of art – the restaurant called in the artist just to explain the meaning behind it.

Throughout our time in Peru, none of us had any altitude problems – we took altitude medication for the first few days and drank coca tea, but were lucky enough not to be affected by it, with the exception of taking many more breaks while hiking. Interestingly enough, the only time I had any problems was our night in Cusco. We didn’t get to bed until 9:30 (very late for us during our two weeks of travel in Patagonia and Peru), and had to set our alarms for the earliest they had been the entire trip, 3am, because we had a 5am flight from Cusco to Lima. I think the 11,000+ foot altitude definitely affected me, as I attempted to try breathing in every way I could, but barely slept at all during those 5.5 hours. I was very happy to arrive back in Santiago, which has an altitude of only 1700 feet, for both a lower altitude and to get back into my normal routine. However, I definitely shed a few tears leaving my dad in the airport alone, eating a salad with no one to translate for him.

General Peru experiences/notes:

  • All of the tea we drank was fresh herbs and hot water, and it was fantastic – I wish I could drink tea that fresh every day.
  • We tried many typical Peruvian dishes (they’re still traditional even if made vegan):
    • Lomo salteado (veggie meat, tomato, onion, garlic, parsley, chili peppers, various spices)
    • Rocoto relleno (stuffed rocoto peppers) – rocoto peppers are extremely hot chili peppers, stuffed with veggie meat, onions, bell peppers, and many other things. However, these were so spicy that even my dad couldn’t finish all two of them.
  • We taught my dad a popular “cheers” in Spanish, and by the last day in Peru, he just almost got the hang of it. Though this is usually said with alcohol, we did it with tea: arriba (glasses up), abajo (glasses down), al centro (glasses to the center), pa’dentro (to the inside = drink!)

If you made it to the end of this post, thank you so much for your interest and for following along! I’m sending lots of virtual hugs through the crazy technology that allows me to stay in touch with everyone while I’m 5,000 miles away. ¡Feliz año nuevo!